Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,Acts 9:1-9. Saul’s mission to Damascus and his Conversion
1. And [But] Saul, yet breathing out threatenings [threatening] It is better to translate the conjunction adversatively here, as the new subject is not connected except with the first sentence of chap. 8. The verb in this clause should be rendered “breathing,” not “breathing out.” Threatening and slaughter was, as it were, the atmosphere in which Saul was living.
and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord] We are not told of any other death, but Stephen’s, in which Saul was a participator, but we can gather from his own words (Acts 26:10) “when they were put to death, I gave my voice [vote] against them,” that the protomartyr was not the only one who was killed in the time of this persecution. It has been suggested that the zeal which Saul shewed at the time of Stephen’s death led to his election into the Sanhedrin, and so he took a judicial part in the later stages of the persecution, and, it may be, from a desire to justify the choice of those who had placed him in authority, he sought to be appointed over the enquiry after the Christians in Damascus. We gather from Acts 26:10 that before this inquisitorial journey he had been armed with the authority of the chief priests in his search after the Christians in Jerusalem.
went unto the high priest] who would most likely be the authority through whom the power, which the Great Sanhedrin claimed to exercise, in religious matters, over Jews in foreign cities, would be put in motion.
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.2. and desired of him letters] These are the papers which constituted his “authority and commission” (Acts 26:12). From that passage we learn that the issuing of these papers was the act of the whole body, for Paul there says they were “from the chief priests.”
to Damascus] Of the history of this most ancient (Genesis 14:15) city in the world, see the Dictionary of the Bible. It had from the earliest period been mixed up with the history of the Jews, and great numbers of Jews were living there at this time, as we can see from the subsequent notices of their conduct in this chapter. We are told by Josephus (B. J. ii. 20. 2) that ten thousand Jews were slaughtered in a massacre in Damascus in Nero’s time, and that the wives of the Damascenes were almost all of them addicted to the Jewish religion.
to the synagogues] As at Jerusalem, so in Damascus the synagogues were numerous, and occupied by different classes and nationalities. Greek-Jews were sure to be found in so large a city.
that if he found any of this way] Better, “any that were of the Way.” The name “the Way” soon became a distinctive appellation of the Christian religion. The fuller expression “the way of truth” is found 2 Peter 2:2; and the brief term is common in the Acts. See Acts 19:9; Acts 19:23, Acts 22:4, Acts 24:14; Acts 24:22.
whether … men or women] We can mark the fury with which Saul raged against the Christians from this mention of the “women” as included among those whom he committed or desired to commit to prison. Cp. Acts 8:3 and Acts 22:4. The women played a more conspicuous part among the early Christians than they were allowed to do among the Jews. See note on Acts 1:14.
he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem] That the whole authority of the Great Sanhedrin might be employed for the extinction of the new teaching.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:3. And as he journeyed] There were two roads by which Saul could make his journey, one the caravan road which led from Egypt to Damascus, and kept near the coast line of the Holy Land till it struck eastward to cross the Jordan at the north of the Lake of Tiberias. To join this road Saul must have at first turned westward to the sea. The other way led through Neapolis and crossed the Jordan south of the Sea of Tiberias, and passing through Gadara went north-eastward to Damascus. We have no means whereby to decide by which road Saul and his companions took their way. The caravan road was a distance of one hundred and thirty-six miles, and occupied six days for the journey.
he came near Damascus] The original is more full. Read, “it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus.” The party must have reached the near neighbourhood of the city, for his companions (Acts 9:8) “led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus” after the vision.
and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven] In Acts 22:6 we are told that the time of the day was “about noon” when the vision was seen, and in Acts 26:13, Paul says that “at mid-day” the light was “above the brightness of the sun.” The mid-day glare of an Eastern sun is of itself exceedingly bright, and the hour was chosen, we cannot doubt, in order that “the glory” of this heavensent light should not be confounded with any natural phenomenon. It was in the midst of this glory that Christ was seen by Saul (1 Corinthians 15:8), so that he can enumerate himself among those who had beheld the Lord after His resurrection.
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?4. And he fell to the earth] Dazzled by the intense brightness. From Acts 26:14 we find that not only Saul but his companions were struck down by the light, though there was more in the vision which he beheld than was made evident to them, and by reason of the greater glory which was manifested to him, his natural sight was blinded.
and heard a voice] We cannot represent in English the different case of the noun in this verse, and in 7. The Greek puts here the accusative case and there the genitive, and thus indicates that there was a difference in the nature of the hearing of Saul and of his companions. And Paul in Acts 22:9 marks the distinction in his own narration, for he says “They heard not the voice (accusative) of him that spake to me.” As this difference is made both in St Luke’s first account, and in the speech of St Paul at Jerusalem, it seems reasonable to accept the explanation which has long ago been given of this grammatical variation, and to understand that Saul heard an articulate sound, a voice which spake to him, while his companions were only conscious of a sound from which they comprehended nothing. St Paul then is precise when he says “they heard not the voice” which I heard, and St Luke is correct when in Acts 9:7 he says “they heard a sound.”
saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?] It is very noteworthy that in all the three accounts of the vision the Greek text of Saul’s name is a transliteration of the Hebrew, shewing that we have here a very close adherence to the words of Jesus. The Lord spake in the language of His people, and both the Evangelist and the Apostle have preserved for us this remarkable feature of the heavenly address. The only other place where the Hebrew form of Saul’s name is retained is in the speech of Ananias when (Acts 9:17) he comes to see the convert in his blindness. As he also had received a communication from Jesus in connection with Saul’s conversion, we can understand how the same form of the name would have been given to him. Moreover he was himself, to judge from his name, a Hebrew, and therefore that form would be most natural on his lips. Except in these cases St Luke always employs the Greek form of the word.
Christ speaks of Himself as persecuted by Saul, because “in all the affliction of his people he is afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9), and “whoso toucheth them, toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.5. And he said, Who art thou, Lord?] Saul is sensible of the Divine nature of the vision, and shews this by his address. The appearance of Christ, though in a glorified body, must have been like that which He wore in His humanity, and since Saul does not recognize Jesus, we may almost certainly conclude that he had not known Him during His ministerial life.
And the Lord said] The best texts have only “And he,” the verb “said” being understood.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest] In Acts 22:8 St Paul gives the fuller form of the sentence, “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” By using this name, the being whose Divine nature Saul has already acknowledged by calling him “Lord,” at once and for ever puts an end to Saul’s persecuting rage, for he is made to see, what his master Gamaliel had before suggested (Acts 5:39), that to persecute Jesus was to “fight against God.”
it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him] These words have been inserted here in some MSS. for the sake of making in this place a complete narrative by the combination and adaptation of the additional particulars given in Acts 26:14 and Acts 22:10. It is easy to understand the desire which prompted such a combination. The best MSS. omit the words here, giving them where they more naturally find place, in the personal narratives of St Paul himself.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.6. Arise] The MSS. which omit the above words insert a conjunction here. Read, But arise. Saul had continued prostrate as he had fallen down at the first.
and go into the city] A proof that the party of travellers had arrived very nearly at Damascus. Tradition here, as in many other instances, has fixed on a spot as the scene of this Divine vision. It is placed outside the eastern gate, and about a mile from the city. Such a situation answers very well, but its fitness is the only ground for attaching any weight to the tradition.
and it shall be told thee what thou must do] In Acts 26:16-18 we have an abstract given by the Apostle of the labours for which Christ designed him, and the words in that passage are placed as a portion of the Divine communication made before Saul entered Damascus, but as in that narrative no mention is made of Ananias or his visit, we may conclude that we have instead a brief notice of the message which Ananias brought to him, and that therein is contained a declaration of what Jesus in the vision only spoke of as “what thou must do.”
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.7. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless] Cp. Daniel 10:7, “I Daniel alone saw the vision, for the men that were with me saw not the vision, but a great quaking fell upon them.”
Saul was not only furnished with authority, but also with men who were to carry out his intentions and bring the prisoners to Jerusalem. Painters have represented the travellers as riding on horseback, but there is no warrant for this in any form of the narrative.
stood here means “remained fixed,” “did not move.” They had been stricken down as well as Saul (Acts 26:14).
hearing a [the] voice] On the variation of case here, and the probable difference of meaning, see note on Acts 9:4.
but seeing [beholding] no man] The verb is the same that is used by Stephen (Acts 7:56), “Behold, I see the heavens opened.” In their astonishment, and guided by the sound, Saul’s companions lifted up their faces to the sky, but as with the words so with the appearance of Jesus; it was unseen by all but one, but to him was manifest enough to form a ground of his confidence in his Apostolic mission: “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1).
And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.8. and [but] when his eyes were opened, he saw no man [nothing] The vision had struck him blind. He opened his eyes, but their power had been taken away. Thus his physical condition becomes a fit representation of the mental blindness which he afterwards (Acts 26:9) deplores: “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”
but [and] they led him by the hand] His companions saw all things as before, and were able to guide him who had started forth as the leader in their mission of persecution.
And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.9. And he was three days without sight] During this time we cannot but think the illumination of his mind was being perfected by the Spirit. He had been convinced by the vision that Jesus was risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. But more than this was needed for the preparation of this mighty missionary. He himself (Galatians 1:16) speaks of God revealing His Son not only to but in him, and that his conferences were not with flesh and blood, and we are told below (Acts 9:12) that the coming of Ananias had been made known unto him by vision. To this solemn time of darkness may also perhaps be referred those “visions and revelations of the Lord” which the Apostle speaks of to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). While his bodily powers were for a time in suspense, he may fitly describe himself as not knowing whether what he saw was revealed to him “in the body or out of the body,” and it was the spiritual vision only which saw the third heaven and paradise, and the spirit heard those “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
and neither did eat nor drink] The mental anguish for a time overpowered the natural craving for food. The newly called Apostle was contemplating in all its enormity his sin in persecuting the Church of Christ, and though there were times of comfort and refreshing before Ananias came, yet the great thought which filled Saul’s mind would be sorrow for his late mad and misdirected zeal, and so the three days of blindness formed a period of deep penitence.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.10–22. Saul’s sight restored. He preaches in Damascus
10. And [Now] there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias] Of this disciple we have no further mention in Holy Writ except in chap. Acts 22:12, where St Paul describes him as “a devout man according to the Law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt” at Damascus. Whether he had become a Christian during the life of Jesus, or was among the Jewish converts on the day of Pentecost or at some subsequent time and had been forced to flee from Jerusalem by the persecution which followed on the death of Stephen, we are not told, but we can gather, from the words which he employs in expressing his reluctance to visit Saul, that he had much and trustworthy communication still with the Holy City, for he knows both of the havock which the persecutor has caused, and of the purpose of his mission to Damascus. On the name Ananias see Acts 5:1, note.
and to him said the Lord in a vision] As Saul had been prepared for the visit by a vision, so Ananias is by a vision instructed to go to him. Dean Howson’s remarks (Life and Epistles of St Paul, i. 101) on this preparation and its similarity to the preparation of Peter and Cornelius deserve to be dwelt on. “The simultaneous preparation of the hearts of Ananias and Saul, and the simultaneous preparation of those of Peter and Cornelius—the questioning and hesitation of Peter and the questioning and hesitation of Ananias—the one doubting whether he might make friendship with the Gentiles, the other doubting whether he might approach the enemy of the Church—the unhesitating obedience of each when the Divine will was made clearly known—the state of mind in which both the Pharisee and the Centurion were found—each waiting to see what the Lord would say unto them—this close analogy will not be forgotten by those who reverently read the two consecutive chapters, in which the baptism of Saul and the baptism of Cornelius are narrated in the Acts of the Apostles.” When so much criticism has been expended to shew that the Acts is a work of fiction written at a late period to minimize certain differences supposed to exist between the teaching of St Paul and that of St Peter, it is well to know that others have seen, in these undoubted analogies, proofs of the working of a God who is ever the same, and who would have all men to be saved through Jesus Christ.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,11. into the street which is called Straight] A long straight street still runs through Damascus, and is probably (so persistent is every feature of Oriental life) the same in which Ananias found Saul in the house of Judas.
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.12. and hath seen in a vision] The oldest MSS. omit “in a vision.” It could only have been in this wise that Saul had been informed, and the words are merely a gloss.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:13. I have heard by [from] many, &c.] These words seem to point to a longer residence of Ananias in Damascus than he could have made if he had only left Jerusalem after the death of Stephen; and so do the words (Acts 22:12) which speak of his good report among all the Jews that dwelt at Damascus.
how much evil he hath done to thy saints, &c.] The Christian converts were probably called “saints,” i.e. “holy persons,” at a very early period after the death of Christ because of the marvellous outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon the first converts, cp. 1 Peter 1:15. The word is of frequent occurrence in the greetings of St Paul’s Epistles.
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.14. all that call on thy name] To call on Christ is the same as to be a believer in Him. The expression is used as an apposition to “saints” in 1 Corinthians 1:2, and thence we see what in the Pauline language was meant by the word “saints.”
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:15. he is a chosen vessel unto me] Literally, “a vessel of election.” This is a Hebrew form of expression, cp. Jeremiah 22:28, where King Coniah is called “a vessel wherein is no pleasure.” So Jeremiah 51:34, “He hath made me [to be] an empty vessel,” literally, “vessel of emptiness.”
to bear my name] i.e. this shall be the load or duty which I will lay upon this my chosen instrument.
before the Gentiles] This was doubtless a revelation to Ananias, who as a devout Jew would not yet have contemplated the inclusion of the whole world in the Church of Christ. The Gentiles are placed first in the enumeration, because among them specially was Saul’s field of labour to be. For the wide spirit in which the Apostle embraced his commission, see Romans 1:13-14, &c.
and kings] As before Agrippa (Acts 26:1; Acts 26:32) and at Rome, in consequence of the appeal to be heard before Cæsar.
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.16. for I will shew him how great [many] things he must suffer] Cp. Paul’s own words (Acts 20:23), “The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.” The truth of this is borne out by that long list of the Apostle’s sufferings which he enumerates in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) and the less detailed list in the same Epistle (Acts 6:4-5).
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.17. Brother Saul] The Hebrew form of the name, see Acts 9:4, note.
the Lord, even Jesus] Combining the name “Lord” used by Saul when the vision appeared, with that “Jesus” which Christ, speaking from His glory, uttered in answer to Saul’s enquiry, Who art thou?
that appeared unto thee in the way] Thus was brought to Saul after his three days’ blindness a confirmation from without of the reality of what he had seen on the road as he came. The words at the same time give an earnest that here was the teacher who would explain to him what he was to do.
and be filled with the Holy Ghost] On this occasion the Holy Ghost was bestowed without the laying on of the hands of one of the twelve.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.18. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales] The word rendered “scales” is used as a technical term for a disease of the eye by Hippocrates, and the verb derived from it is found (Tob 11:13) used of the cure of a disease of similar character. “And the whiteness pilled away from the corners of his eyes.” This “whiteness” is rendered in the margin (Tob 2:10) “white films,” and was clearly something like the “scales” which caused Saul’s blindness, and a process for the cure thereof is called (Acts 3:17) “to scale away the whiteness of Tobit’s eyes.” St Paul (Acts 22:11) ascribes his blindness to the glory of the heavenly light, and it may have been some secretion, caused by the intensity of that vision, which formed over them, and at his cure fell away. Some have thought that his constant employment of an amanuensis, and the mention of the large characters in which he wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians (Acts 6:11) “Ye see in what large letters I have written to you,” are indications that the Apostle suffered permanently in his eyesight from the heavenly vision.
and he received [recovered, and so in 17] sight forthwith] The oldest MSS. omit the last word.
and arose, and was baptized] In the fuller account (Acts 22:16) we learn that the exhortation to be baptized was part of the message with which Ananias was charged, and so was divinely commissioned to receive Saul thus into the Christian Church.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.19. and when he had received [taken] meat, &c.] Needed after his three days fast, but (says Calvin) “he refreshed not his body with meat until his soul had received strength.”
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus] The word Saul is not found in the oldest MSS. Read “And he was, &c.” The expression rendered “certain days” is the same which in Acts 10:48, Acts 15:36, Acts 16:12, Acts 24:24, and Acts 25:13 is used by St Luke, and in all cases the time indicated by them must have been brief. It was for this amount of time that Peter tarried with Cornelius, the words are applied to a short period spent by Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, to the time of St Paul’s stay at Philippi, to the short time which Paul was detained at Cæsarea before his hearing by Felix, and to a like period between the arrival of Festus and the visit which Agrippa made to salute him as the new Governor. In most of these instances the time intended must have been very brief, and it is important to notice this here, because in Acts 9:23 we shall find another expression which is translated “many days” and seems designed by the writer to indicate a somewhat longer period. It is clear, from the way in which “disciples” are here mentioned, that there was a numerous body of Christians in Damascus at this early period. Saul dwelt with them now not as an enemy but as a brother, by which name Ananias had been directed to greet him.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.20. And straightway he preached Christ [proclaimed Jesus] in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God] The best MSS. read Jesus in this verse, and this naturally is correct. The preaching which was to be to the Jews a stumbling-block was that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, their long-expected Messiah.
He went, as was Christ’s custom also, into the synagogues as the most likely places where to find an audience who would listen to his proclamation. His letters to the synagogues (Acts 9:2) were not delivered, but he came as the herald of one of higher authority than the chief priests. For St Paul’s constant practice of teaching in the Jewish synagogues, see Acts 13:5, Acts 14:1, Acts 17:1; Acts 17:10, Acts 18:4; Acts 18:19, Acts 19:8.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?21. But all that heard him were amazed] Saul’s fame as a persecutor of Christians was well known to the Jews of Damascus, and the authorities of the synagogues may have been instructed beforehand to welcome him as a zealous agent. If so their amazement is easy to understand. It is clear from what follows in this verse that they knew of his mission and the intention thereof, though Saul did not bring them his “commission and authority.” We should gather also from the strong expression “destroyed,” used to describe Saul’s career in Jerusalem, that the slaughter of the Christians there had not been limited to the stoning of Stephen.
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.22. But Saul increased the more in strength] i.e. he became more and more energetic in his labours and the Holy Ghost gave him more power. His fitness for the labour on which he was entering was very great. He possessed all the Jewish learning of a zealous pupil of Gamaliel, and now that he had seen Jesus in the glory of the Godhead, he could use his stores of learning for the support of the new teaching in such wise as to commend it to those Jews who were looking for the consolation of Israel. But these would naturally be the smallest portion of his hearers. The rest of the Jews were confounded. They heard their Scripture applied by a trained mind, and shewn to be applicable to the life of Jesus. They could not at this time make an attack on Saul, for they were paralysed by what they heard, and it was only when some time had elapsed that they resolved to continue in their rejection of Jesus, and then, at a later time, their persecution of Saul began.
proving that this is very [the] Christ] The word here rendered “proving” is used again in Acts 16:10, and translated “assuredly gathering.” The idea conveyed by it is that of putting things side by side, and so making a comparison and forming a conclusion. Thus Saul, well equipped with a knowledge of the ancient Scriptures, set before his hearers a description of the Messiah as he is there portrayed, and relating the life history of Jesus, shewed them that in Him the Scriptures of the prophets had been fulfilled.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:23–25. A Plot against Saul’s Life. His Flight from Damascus
23. And after that [when] many days were fulfilled] As the visit to Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 9:26 seems to follow closely upon the events narrated in Acts 9:25, and as that visit was not made till after the retirement into Arabia of which St Paul speaks (Galatians 1:17-18) thus: “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were Apostles before me, but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter,” we must place the visit to Arabia between the events recorded in Acts 9:22 and the fresh narration which commences in this verse. St Luke has marked, as it seems, the two periods as distinct by calling one time of residence “certain days,” and the other “many days.” The following seems to have been the order of events. Saul preached for “certain days” in Damascus immediately after his conversion. He then made his journey into Arabia, either for preaching or for retirement and spiritual communion, after which he made a second visit to Damascus, on which latter occasion his enemies sought to take his life. This latter visit is here spoken of as lasting “many days.” The words thus translated are used in several places of the Acts; as in this chapter, Acts 9:43, of the stay made by Peter at Joppa after the raising of Dorcas; also Acts 18:18, of the time, “a good while,” which St Paul spent in Corinth after he had been brought before Gallio; and in Acts 27:7 of the “many days” of slow sailing during the Apostle’s voyage to Rome. It is clear from these examples that the period covered by the words is very indefinite, but if we reckon the “three years” (Galatians 1:18) from Saul’s conversion, then the first and last times of residence in Damascus would be included in that period, and we need not then extend either the stay in Arabia or the duration of this later visit to Damascus over a great while, especially if we remember that, to a Jew, one whole year with the end of the preceding and the beginning of the succeeding one was counted for three years.
the Jews took counsel to kill him] The deliberation and previous preparation implied in this expression are such as would take place, not among the people who were “confounded” by Saul’s first preaching, but when they had become enraged against him after his second visit, when his words would be even more full of power than before, by reason of the time spent in preaching in Arabia, or more probably in spiritual communion to prepare himself for the labours which God had set before him.
But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.24. but their laying await [plot] was known of Saul] Perhaps from the information of some of the Christian disciples, who would be well disposed to Saul by what they had heard of him from Ananias, and who played the part of friends in aiding his escape from Damascus.
And they watched the gates day and night to kill him] The gates were the places to which one fleeing from death would naturally make his way. St Paul says (2 Corinthians 11:32) of the circumstances under which this plot was made against his life, that “In Damascus the governor [Ethnarch] of King Aretas kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me.” Hence it appears that it was no mere attack made by the Jews resident in Damascus, but they had gained the support of the authorities for the time being. We do not know enough of the history of Syria and Arabia at this period to be able to explain with certainty how an Ethnarch of Aretas, who was king of Arabia Petræa, came to be holding Damascus. But we do know (Joseph. Antiq. xviii. 3. 1–4) that Aretas had been at war with Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, who in consequence of his attachment to his brother Philip’s wife, had forsaken his own wife, who was the daughter of Aretas. Herod had appealed to Rome, and been promised the help of the Roman power, but the death of Tiberius (a.d. 37) checked the march of Vitellius, the Roman governor of Syria, into Arabia, and he thereupon returned to Antioch. It may have been that Aretas, encouraged by this withdrawal, had advanced, and in the general confusion had taken possession of Damascus. He had, in a former stage of the war, destroyed the army of Herod; and some of the Jews, who hated Herod, spoke of this destruction of his troops as a Divine judgement for his murder of John the Baptist. We can understand then that the Jews in Damascus might under such circumstances favour Aretas, and in return for their support be aided by his Ethnarch in an attempt on the life of Saul.
Or the occupation of Damascus by Aretas may have been (as Dean Howson suggests) in consequence of the change of policy which took place so widely at the death of Tiberius; and Caligula, in contradiction of what his predecessor had been designing, to crush Aretas, may have put the Arabian king in command of the city of Damascus for a time.
Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.25. Then the disciples took him by night] The oldest MSS. read “But his disciples, &c.,” and this well-supported reading favours the explanation of the “many days” given in Acts 9:24. On his second visit Saul had remained long enough to nave gathered round him a party of followers who accepted him as their teacher.
and let him down by [through] the wall in a basket] In 2 Corinthians 11:33 St Paul says, “And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall and escaped.” Such apertures can be found in the walls of houses in all defenced cities, and it was by such a way that Rahab let the spies escape from Jericho (Joshua 2:15), and Michal aided David’s escape (1 Samuel 19:12). The basket here mentioned (spuris) is the same that is spoken of (Matthew 15:37) at the feeding of the four thousand in the mountain district west of the Sea of Galilee. It appears to have been large and soft, fit for carrying a large quantity of miscellaneous articles from the plain into the hills, while the baskets (cophinoi) spoken of at the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:20) were such as the multitude, which in that case had followed Jesus on foot out of the cities, would be likely to carry in their hands. In a basket of the former kind Saul might easily be wrapped and then lowered over the city wall.
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.26–31. Saul visits Jerusalem. He is sent away to Tarsus. The Churches have rest
26. And when Saul [he] was come to Jerusalem] The oldest MSS. omit the proper name. Saul had never visited Jerusalem since the day when he set out on his inquisitorial journey to Damascus, and he could only be known at that time to the Christians as their determined enemy.
he assayed to join himself to the disciples] If as a Jew he had gone to Alexandria or any other city where Jews were numerous, his first thought would have been to search out his co-religionists; so he acts now. He seeks to join the Christian community. But his own language (Galatians 1:16) shews us that he had made no attempt to spread the news of his changed feelings among the Christian congregations. “I conferred not with flesh and blood,” he says, “but I went into Arabia, and returned to Damascus.” An absence of three years, mainly in a region whence little news could come of his conversion and labours, and the memory of what evil he had done in days gone by, were enough to justify some hesitation about receiving him, on the part of the disciples.
but [and] they were all afraid of him] The conjunction is the ordinary copulative, and connects the two clauses, Saul’s desire and the behaviour of the disciples. In Galatians 1:18 St Paul says his wish was to see Peter, and this we can very well understand, for though Saul had received his commission directly from Jesus, there were many things in the history of the life of Christ which could be best learned from the lips of him who had been with Jesus from the commencement of His ministry. But at first Saul came to the Christians at Jerusalem as an ordinary believer.
and believed not that he was a disciple] Here we see how little was known in Jerusalem of the history of Saul since his conversion, and we can understand those words of his own (Galatians 1:22), “I was unknown by face unto the Churches of Judæa which were in Christ.” God had been training him for his work among the Gentiles, and although he was brought to Jerusalem that all might know that the Gospel was one, and that Saul was sent forth even as the twelve, yet no attempt is made by St Luke at this point, where it might have been most expected, to set forth the unanimity of Paul and Peter. It is left for St Paul himself to tell us of his desire to see Peter, and the historian only says they all were afraid of him.
But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.27. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles] i.e. to such of the Apostles as happened to be then in Jerusalem. During a short space of fifteen days it is easy to understand that all but Peter and James might be absent from Jerusalem. St Paul tells us he only saw these two during his visit (Galatians 1:19), and all that he says is perfectly consistent with St Luke’s narrative. Barnabas, who introduced Saul to the Apostles, has already been mentioned as a Levite of Cyprus (Acts 4:36), and from the proximity of Cyprus to Cilicia, and the distinction of the schools of Tarsus, a conjecture has been hazarded that Barnabas may have been known to Saul before they came to Jerusalem. This would explain how it came to pass that while the other disciples were afraid of him, Barnabas listened to his statement and repeated it to the rest of the Church.
and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, &c.] It is worthy of notice in how many forms the statement of the appearance of Jesus to Saul is repeated. This was indeed the turning-point of the Apostle’s life, Jesus of Nazareth seen as the glorified Son of God.
and how he had preached [spoken] boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus] Whether the knowledge of Barnabas was derived from Saul himself or from other sources we are not told, but in the political turmoil of the times (see Acts 9:24, note) we may easily suppose that the teachings of a preacher who appeared for a brief space, and then retired from Damascus, and who had only lately reappeared, would not be widely known among the Church at Jerusalem.
And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.28. And he was with them, &c.] i.e. for the fifteen days during which his visit lasted he was received into the fellowship of the Church.
And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.29. And he spake boldly, &c.] The conjunction is left out in the best MSS. Read, “speaking boldly, &c.”
in the name of the Lord Jesus] The last word is omitted in the oldest MSS.
and disputed against the Grecians] The Greek text says “and he spake and disputed, &c.” These Grecians were the Greek-Jews at whose instigation Stephen had been put to death. Now Saul, who had consented unto that martyrdom, is exposed to the like persecution. The very same word “disputed” is here used which was employed to describe the controversies with the protomartyr (Acts 6:9), and it is found nowhere else in this book. But it is worth notice that the attack is now reversed. The Grecians disputed with Stephen, now Saul disputes with them.
but they went about [sought] to slay him] As the Jews in Damascus had done.
Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.30. Which when the brethren knew] Lit. “And when the brethren knew it.” The disciples were informed as those of Damascus had been of the plot in that city.
they brought him down to Cesarea] i.e. to the seaport so called, not to Cæsarea Philippi, for the latter place was only touched by the road which led from Tyre to Damascus. The former was a place from which Tarsus could be reached either by sea or by the road which ran northward along the coast of Syria.
and sent him forth to Tarsus] where he was born, and which perhaps, next to Jerusalem, would appear to be the best centre from which his work could be carried on. For an account of Tarsus and its fame as a seat of heathen learning, see Dict. of the Bible.
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.31. Then had the churches rest, &c.] Better, “So the Church throughout all Judæa and Galilee and Samaria had peace.” In the best texts the noun and all the verbs agreeing with it are in the singular number, and what is meant is the whole Christian body, not the various congregations. The cause of this peace for the Christians was that the attention of their persecutors the Jews was turned from them to resist the attempt made by Caligula (Joseph. Antiq. xviii. 8. 2) to have his statue erected in the Temple at Jerusalem. This profanation was averted partly by the determined opposition of the Jews, and partly by the intercession of King Agrippa with the mad Emperor.
And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.32–35. Peter heals a paralytic at Lydda
32. as Peter passed throughout all quarters] The history now turns from Saul to Peter, to shew us that when the former had been prepared for his special work the latter was taught by revelation that the time had arrived for the next and complete extension of the Church among all nations. Peter had been labouring, as no doubt all the rest of the twelve also (for we have seen that only two were at Jerusalem when Saul came thither), in building up the Churches in Judæa and Samaria, and the narrative of two miracles which follow in the history makes intelligible to us the position of Peter when Cornelius is warned to send for him.
he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda] On saints, see above on Acts 9:13.
Lydda] The Hebrew Lod, 1 Chronicles 8:12. It was afterwards called Diospolis. It was near to Joppa, and a day’s journey from Jerusalem. Josephus (Antiq. xx. 6. 2) calls it “a village not less than a city in largeness.”
And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.33. which had kept his bed eight years] There could therefore be no doubt cast upon the miraculous nature of his cure.
And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.34. Jesus Christ maketh thee whole] As in the cure of the cripple at the Temple-gate (Acts 3:6), the Apostle makes known that he is but the messenger, and that the healer is Christ. We are not told that Æneas was a disciple, but it may be inferred that he was among “the saints,” and that thus Peter was brought unto him.
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.35. all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him] No doubt his case of eight-years-long paralysis was well known to the dwellers in the village and neighbourhood, and to see such a one about in their midst again would be a cause for general remark and enquiry into the manner of his restoration. “When the Scripture saith all it doth not comprehend every one, how many soever it noteth, but it putteth all for the more part, or for many, or for the common sort of men” (Calvin on this verse).
Saron] Heb. Sharon. It is doubtful whether by this name is intended some village in the neighbourhood of Lydda or the whole district known as the “plain of Sharon,” and extending along the coast from Joppa to Cæsarea. No place of this name has been noticed in the neighbourhood, and as in the original the word has the article, “the Sharon,” it is better to refer it to the district.
Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.36–43. Dorcas Raised to life. Peter’s stay at Joppa
36. Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple] For an account of Joppa, one of the great seaports on the coast of Palestine, see Dictionary of the Bible.
Dorcas is called a disciple that it may be seen that under the gospel there is no distinction between male and female (Galatians 3:28).
named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas] Tabitha is the Aramaic form of a Hebrew proper name (2 Kings 12:1) which signifies a gazelle (cp. Song of Solomon 4:5), as does the Greek word Dorcas.
this woman was full of good works, &c.] A favourite form of expression with St Luke. Cp. “Stephen full of faith and power” (Acts 6:8); Elymas, “full of all subtilty” (Acts 13:10); and the Ephesians “full of wrath” (Acts 19:28). The sense is “given up to” or “devoted to.”
And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.37. that she was [fell] sick, and died] The proceedings which followed on her death are evidence of its reality. The probable reason for deferring the burial was the knowledge that Peter was close at hand, and the hope of the disciples that the power of Jesus might be exercised through him for the restoration to life of so eminent a disciple as Dorcas.
And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.38. desiring him that he would not delay to come to them] The best MSS. give a more graphic form to the sentence by the use of the direct entreaty. Read, “intreating him, Delay not to come on to us.” It is as though their supplication were “We have heard of the mighty works which Jesus has wrought by thy hands; extend thy journey to us, for we are in great need.”
Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.39. Then [And] Peter arose and went with them] We may be sure that the Apostle knew, by the Spirit, that it would please God to do something for the help of the distress at Joppa, when he set out with the messengers.
and all the widows stood by him weeping] These were the women who, with the dead Dorcas, had been busy in the good works to which they were all devoted. The petition of such a company was sure to have power with the Apostle, and their action shews how they place the good deeds of her whom they had lost far above their own.
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.40. But Peter put them all forth] As Christ had done (Matthew 9:25) at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, on which occasion Peter had been present.
and kneeled down, and prayed] Asking God that the consolation to be given to these mourners might be the restoration of the dead woman to life.
and turning him to the body] When by the Spirit’s admonition he knew that his prayer was heard.
said, Tabitha, arise] If he spake in the Aramaic dialect, as is most probable, his utterance must have been nearly the same as that of our Lord (Mark 5:41), Talitha cumi, at the raising of the daughter of Jairus. But when both these utterances are interpreted in the places where they occur, it is astonishing to find those who would suggest that the Tabitha of this verse is an adaptation of the Talitha of the Gospel.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.41. when he had called the saints and widows] These words make it evident that the petition sent to Peter had been the supplication of the whole Christian Church of Joppa, “Come on unto us and help us.”
And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.42. and many believed in the Lord] There seems to be intended by these words a fuller acceptance of the faith of Jesus than when it is said “they turned to the Lord” (see above, Acts 9:35). The belief here wrought by the resurrection of Dorcas is like that mentioned (John 11:45) of those who were won to the faith by the raising of Lazarus.
And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.43. he tarried many days] On the indefinite nature of the time indicated here see above, Acts 9:23, note.
with one Simon a tanner] The trade of a tanner was held as abominable by the Jews. A wife, it is said, could claim a divorce from a husband who became a tanner (Mishna Khethuboth vii. 10, where is recorded the following story): “It happened at Sidon that a tanner died, and left a brother who was also a tanner. The sages held that his (childless) widow had a right to plead, Thy brother I could bear but I cannot bear thee,” and so in this case the woman might refuse to marry her husband’s brother.
It is a sign that in the mind of St Peter some usages and prejudices of the Jews were already becoming of small account, when he makes his abode at the house of Simon a tanner. Such a step prepares us for the history of the next chapter, where he is instructed to go and preach to and baptize the Gentile Cornelius.