Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
Ac 9:1-25. Conversion of Saul, and Beginnings of His Ministry.
1. Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, &c.—The emphatic "yet" is intended to note the remarkable fact, that up to this moment his blind persecuting rage against the disciples of the Lord burned as fiercely as ever. (In the teeth of this, Neander and Olshausen picture him deeply impressed with Stephen's joyful faith, remembering passages of the Old Testament confirmatory of the Messiahship of Jesus, and experiencing such a violent struggle as would inwardly prepare the way for the designs of God towards him. Is not dislike, if not unconscious disbelief, of sudden conversion at the bottom of this?) The word "slaughter" here points to cruelties not yet recorded, but the particulars of which are supplied by himself nearly thirty years afterwards: "And I persecuted this way unto the death" (Ac 22:4); "and when they were put to death, I gave my voice [vote] against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to [did my utmost to make them] blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange [foreign] cities" (Ac 26:10, 11). All this was before his present journey.
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. desired … letters—of authorization.
to Damascus—the capital of Syria and the great highway between eastern and western Asia, about one hundred thirty miles northeast of Jerusalem; the most ancient city perhaps in the world, and lying in the center of a verdant and inexhaustible paradise. It abounded (as appears from Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.20,2) with Jews, and with Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith. Thither the Gospel had penetrated; and Saul, flushed with past successes, undertakes to crush it out.
that if he found any of this way, whether men or women—Thrice are women specified as objects of his cruelty, as an aggravated feature of it (Ac 8:3; 22:4; and here).
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
3. he came near Damascus—so Ac 22:6. Tradition points to a bridge near the city as the spot referred to. Events which are the turning points in one's history so imprint themselves upon the memory that circumstances the most trifling in themselves acquire by connection with them something of their importance, and are recalled with inexpressible interest.
suddenly—At what time of day, it is not said; for artless simplicity reigns here. But he himself emphatically states, in one of his narratives, that it was "about noon" (Ac 22:6), and in the other, "at midday" (Ac 26:13), when there could be no deception.
there shined round about him a light from heaven—"a great light (he himself says) above the brightness of the sun," then shining in its full strength.
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
4-6. he fell to the earth—and his companions with him (Ac 26:14), who "saw the light" (Ac 22:9).
and heard a voice saying unto him—"in the Hebrew tongue" (Ac 26:14).
Saul, Saul—a reduplication full of tenderness [De Wette]. Though his name was soon changed into "Paul," we find him, in both his own narratives of the scene, after the lapse of so many years, retaining the original form, as not daring to alter, in the smallest detail, the overpowering words addressed to him.
why persecutest thou me?—No language can express the affecting character of this question, addressed from the right hand of the Majesty on high to an infuriated, persecuting mortal. (See Mt 25:45, and that whole judgment scene).
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. Who art thou, Lord?—"Jesus knew Saul ere Saul knew Jesus" [Bengel]. The term "Lord" here is an indefinite term of respect for some unknown but august speaker. That Saul saw as well as heard this glorious Speaker, is expressly said by Ananias (Ac 9:17; 22:14), by Barnabas (Ac 9:27), and by himself (Ac 26:16); and in claiming apostleship, he explicitly states that he had "seen the Lord" (1Co 9:1; 15:8), which can refer only to this scene.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest—The "I" and "thou" here are touchingly emphatic in the original; while the term "Jesus" is purposely chosen, to convey to him the thrilling information that the hated name which he sought to hunt down—"the Nazarene," as it is in Ac 22:8—was now speaking to him from the skies, "crowned with glory and honor" (see Ac 26:9).
It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks—The metaphor of an ox, only driving the goad deeper by kicking against it, is a classic one, and here forcibly expresses, not only the vanity of all his measures for crushing the Gospel, but the deeper wound which every such effort inflicted upon 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. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said—(The most ancient manuscripts and versions of the New Testament lack all these words here [including the last clause of Ac 9:5]; but they occur in Ac 26:14 and Ac 22:10, from which they appear to have been inserted here). The question, "What shall I do, Lord?" or, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" indicates a state of mind singularly interesting (see on Ac 2:37). Its elements seem to be these: (1) Resistless conviction that "Jesus whom he persecuted," now speaking to him, was "Christ the Lord." (See on Ga 1:15, 16). (2) As a consequence of this, that not only all his religious views, but his whole religious character, had been an entire mistake; that he was up to that moment fundamentally and wholly wrong. (3) That though his whole future was now a blank, he had absolute confidence in Him who had so tenderly arrested him in his blind career, and was ready both to take in all His teaching and to carry out all His directions. (For more, see on Ac 9:9).
Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee, &c.—See on Ac 8:26-28.
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
7. the men … stood speechless—This may mean merely that they remained so; but if the standing posture be intended, we have only to suppose that though at first they "all fell to the earth" (Ac 26:14), they arose of their own accord while Saul yet lay prostrate.
hearing a—rather "the"
voice—Paul himself says, "they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me" (Ac 22:9). But just as "the people that stood by heard" the voice that saluted our Lord with recorded words of consolation and assurance, and yet heard not the articulate words, but thought "it thundered" or that some "angel spake to Him" (Joh 12:28, 29)—so these men heard the voice that spake to Saul, but heard not the articulate words. Apparent discrepancies like these, in the different narratives of the same scene in one and the same book of Acts, furnish the strongest confirmation both of the facts themselves and of the book which records them.
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. Saul arose … and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man—after beholding the Lord, since he "could not see for the glory of that light" (Ac 22:11), he had involuntarily closed his eyes to protect them from the glare; and on opening them again he found his vision gone. "It is not said, however, that he was blind, for it was no punishment" [Bengel].
And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink—that is, according to the Hebrew mode of computation: he took no food during the remainder of that day, the entire day following, and so much of the subsequent day as elapsed before the visit of Ananias. Such a period of entire abstinence from food, in that state of mental absorption and revolution into which he had been so suddenly thrown, is in perfect harmony with known laws and numerous facts. But what three days those must have been! "Only one other space of three days' duration can be mentioned of equal importance in the history of the world" [Howson]. Since Jesus had been revealed not only to his eyes but to his soul (see on Ga 1:15, 16), the double conviction must have immediately flashed upon him, that his whole reading of the Old Testament hitherto had been wrong, and that the system of legal righteousness in which he had, up to that moment, rested and prided himself was false and fatal. What materials these for spiritual exercise during those three days of total darkness, fasting, and solitude! On the one hand, what self-condemnation, what anguish, what death of legal hope, what difficulty in believing that in such a case there could be hope at all; on the other hand, what heartbreaking admiration of the grace that had "pulled him out of the fire," what resistless conviction that there must be a purpose of love in it, and what tender expectation of being yet honored, as a chosen vessel, to declare what the Lord had done for his soul, and to spread abroad the savor of that Name which he had so wickedly, though ignorantly, sought to destroy—must have struggled in his breast during those memorable days! Is it too much to say that all that profound insight into the Old Testament, that comprehensive grasp of the principles of the divine economy, that penetrating spirituality, that vivid apprehension of man's lost state, and those glowing views of the perfection and glory of the divine remedy, that beautiful ideal of the loftiness and the lowliness of the Christian character, that large philanthropy and burning zeal to spend and be spent through all his future life for Christ, which distinguish the writings of this chiefest of the apostles and greatest of men, were all quickened into life during those three successive days?
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.
10-16. a certain disciple … named Ananias—See on Ac 22:12.
to him said the Lord—that is, Jesus. (See Ac 9:13, 14, 17).
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. go into the street … called Straight—There is still a street of this name in Damascus, about half a mile in length, running from east to west through the city [Maundrell].
and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus—There is something touching in the minuteness of these directions. Tarsus was the capital of the province of Cilicia, lying along the northeast coast of the Mediterranean. It was situated on the river Cydnus, was a "large and populous city" (says Xenophon, and see Ac 21:39), and under the Romans had the privilege of self-government.
behold, he prayeth—"breathing out" no longer "threatenings and slaughter," but struggling desires after light and life in the Persecuted One. Beautiful note of encouragement as to the frame in which Ananias would find the persecutor.
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 a man named Ananias, &c.—Thus, as in the case of Cornelius and Peter afterwards, there was a mutual preparation of each for each. But we have no account of the vision which Saul had of Ananias coming unto him and putting his hands upon him for the restoration of his sight, save this interesting allusion to it in the vision which Ananias himself had.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
13. Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, &c.—"The objections of Ananias, and the removal of them by the Lord, display in a very touching manner the childlike relation of the believing soul to its Redeemer. The Saviour speaks with Ananias as a man does with his friend" [Olshausen].
how much evil he hath done to thy saints—"Thy saints," says Ananias to Christ; therefore Christ is God [Bengel]. So, in Ac 9:14, Ananias describes the disciples as "those that called on Christ's name." See on Ac 7:59, 60; and compare 1Co 1:2.
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
14. here he hath authority, &c.—so that the terror not only of the great persecutor's name, but of this commission to Damascus, had travelled before him from the capital to the doomed spot.
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. Go thy way—Do as thou art bidden, without gainsaying.
he is a chosen vessel—a word often used by Paul in illustrating God's sovereignty in election (Ro 9:21-23; 2Co 4:7; 2Ti 2:20, 21 [Alford]. Compare Zec 3:2).
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
16. I will show him—(See Ac 20:23, 24; 21:11).
how great things he must suffer for my name—that is, Much he has done against that Name; but now, when I show him what great things he must suffer for that Name, he shall count it his honor and privilege.
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.
17-19. Ananias went his way, and putting his hands on him, said, Brother Saul—How beautifully childlike is the obedience of Ananias to "the heavenly vision!"
the Lord, even Jesus—This clearly shows in what sense the term "Lord" is used in this book. It is Jesus that is meant, as almost invariably in the Epistles also.
who appeared unto thee in the way—This knowledge by an inhabitant of Damascus of what had happened to Saul before entering it, would show him at once that this was the man whom Jesus had already prepared him to expect.
and be filled with the Holy Ghost—which Ananias probably, without any express instructions on that subject, took it for granted would descend upon him; and not necessarily after his baptism [Baumgarten, Webster and Wilkinson]—for Cornelius and his company received it before theirs (Ac 10:44-48)—but perhaps immediately after the recovery of his sight by the laying on of Ananias' hands.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
18. there fell from his eyes as it were scales—"This shows that the blindness as well as the cure was supernatural. Substances like scales would not form naturally in so short a time" [Webster and Wilkinson]. And the medical precision of Luke's language here is to be noted.
was baptized—as directed by Ananias (Ac 22:16).
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
19. when he had received meat, he was strengthened—for the exhaustion occasioned by his three days' fast would not be the less real, though unfelt during his struggles. (See on Mt 4:2).
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples at Damascus—making their acquaintance, in another way than either he or they had anticipated, and regaining his tone by the fellowship of the saints; but not certainly in order to learn from them what he was to teach, which he expressly disavows (Ga 1:12, 16).
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
20-22. preached Christ … that he is the Son of God—rather, "preached Jesus," according to all the most ancient manuscripts and versions of the New Testament (so Ac 9:21, "all that call on this name," that is, Jesus; and Ac 9:22, "proving that this Jesus is very Christ").
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?
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
23. And after many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him—Had we no other record than this, we should have supposed that what is here related took place while Saul continued at Damascus after his baptism. But in Ga 1:17, 18 we learn from Paul himself that he "went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus," and that from the time of his first visit to the close of his second, both of which appear to have been short, a period of three years elapsed; either three full years, or one full year and part of two others. (See on Ga 1:16-18). That such a blank should occur in the Acts, and be filled up in Galatians, is not more remarkable than that the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, their stay there, and their return thence, recorded only by Matthew, should be so entirely passed over by Luke, that if we had only his Gospel, we should have supposed that they returned to Nazareth immediately after the presentation in the temple. (Indeed in one of his narratives, Ac 22:16, 17, Paul himself takes no notice of this period). But wherefore this journey? Perhaps (1) because he felt a period of repose and partial seclusion to be needful to his spirit, after the violence of the change and the excitement of his new occupation. (2) To prevent the rising storm which was gathering against him from coming too soon to a head. (3) To exercise his ministry in the Jewish synagogues, as opportunity afforded. On his return, refreshed and strengthened in spirit, he immediately resumed his ministry, but soon to the imminent hazard of his life.
But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
24, 25. they watched the gates night and day to kill him—The full extent of his danger appears only from his own account (2Co 11:32): "In Damascus, the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me"; the exasperated Jews having obtained from the governor a military force, the more surely to compass his destruction.
Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
25. Then the disciples … by night let him down—"through a window" (2Co 11:33).
by the wall—Such overhanging windows in the walls of Eastern cities were common, and are to be seen in Damascus to this day.
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.
Ac 9:26-31. Saul's First Visit to Jerusalem after His Conversion.
26. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem—"three years after" his conversion, and particularly "to see Peter" (Ga 1:18); no doubt because he was the leading apostle, and to communicate to him the prescribed sphere of his labors, specially to "the Gentiles."
he assayed to join himself to the disciples—simply as one of them, leaving his apostolic commission to manifest itself.
they were all afraid of him, &c.—knowing him only as a persecutor of the faith; the rumor of his conversion, if it ever was cordially believed, passing away during his long absence in Arabia, and the news of his subsequent labors in Damascus perhaps not having reached them.
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 … brought him to the apostles—that is, to Peter and James; for "other of the apostles saw I none," says he fourteen years after (Ga 1:18, 19). Probably none of the other apostles were there at the time (Ac 4:36). Barnabas being of Cyprus, which was within a few hours' sail of Cilicia, and annexed to it as a Roman province, and Saul and he being Hellenistic Jews and eminent in their respective localities, they may very well have been acquainted with each other before this [Howson]. What is here said of Barnabas is in fine consistency with the "goodness" ascribed to him (Ac 11:24), and with the name "son of consolation," given him by the apostles (Ac 4:36); and after Peter and James were satisfied, the disciples generally would at once receive him.
how he had seen the Lord … and he—the Lord.
had spoken to him—that is, how he had received his commission direct from the Lord Himself.
And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
28, 29. And he was with them, coming in and going out at Jerusalem—for fifteen days, lodging with Peter (Ga 1:18).
And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.
29. disputed against the Grecians—(See on Ac 6:1); addressing himself specially to them, perhaps, as being of his own class, and that against which he had in the days of his ignorance been the fiercest.
they went about to slay him—Thus was he made to feel, throughout his whole course, what he himself had made others so cruelly to feel, the cost of discipleship.
Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
30. they brought him down to Cæsarea—on the coast (see on Ac 8:40); accompanying him thus far. But Paul had another reason than his own apprehension for quitting Jerusalem so soon. "While he was praying in the temple, he was in a trance," and received express injunctions to this effect. (See on Ac 22:17-21).
and sent him forth to Tarsus—In Ga 1:21 he himself says of this journey, that he "came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia"; from which it is natural to infer that instead of sailing direct for Tarsus, he landed at Seleucia, travelled thence to Antioch, and penetrated from this northward into Cilicia, ending his journey at Tarsus. As this was his first visit to his native city since his conversion, so it is not certain that he ever was there again. (See on Ac 11:25). It probably was now that he became the instrument of gathering into the fold of Christ those "kinsmen," that "sister," and perhaps her "son," of whom mention is made in Ac 23:16, &c.; Ro 16:7, 11, 21 [Howson].
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.
Ac 9:31. Flourishing State of the Church in Palestine at This Time.
31. Then had all the churches rest—rather, "the Church," according to the best manuscripts and versions. But this rest was owing not so much to the conversion of Saul, as probably to the Jews being engrossed with the emperor Caligula's attempt to have his own image set up in the temple of Jerusalem [Josephus, Antiquities, 18.8.1, &c.].
throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria—This incidental notice of distinct churches already dotting all the regions which were the chief scenes of our Lord's ministry, and that were best able to test the facts on which the whole preaching of the apostles was based, is extremely interesting. "The fear of the Lord" expresses their holy walk; "the comfort of the Holy Ghost," their "peace and joy in believing," under the silent operation of the blessed Comforter.
And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.
Ac 9:32-43. Peter Heals Eneas at Lydda and Raises Tabitha to Life at Joppa.
The historian now returns to Peter, in order to introduce the all-important narrative of Cornelius (Ac 10:1-48). The occurrences here related probably took place during Saul's sojourn in Arabia.
32-35. as Peter passed throughout all quarters—not now fleeing from persecution, but peacefully visiting the churches.
to the saints which dwelt at Lydda—about five miles east of Joppa.
And there he found a certain man named AEneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
And Peter said unto him, AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.
34. And Peter said unto him, Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole—(See on Ac 3:6).
make thy bed—(See on Joh 5:8).
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.
35. all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron—(or "Sharon," a rich vale between Joppa and Cæsarea).
saw him, and turned to the Lord—that is, there was a general conversion in consequence.
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.
36-39. at Joppa—the modern Jaffa, on the Mediterranean, a very ancient city of the Philistines, afterwards and still the seaport of Jerusalem, from which it lies distant forty-five miles to the northwest.
Tabitha … Dorcas—the Syro-Chaldaic and Greek names for an antelope or gazelle, which, from its loveliness, was frequently employed as a proper name for women [Meyer, Olshausen]. Doubtless the interpretation, as here given, is but an echo of the remarks made by the Christians regarding her—how well her character answered to her name.
full of good works and alms-deeds—eminent for the activities and generosities of the Christian character.
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. when they had washed—according to the custom of civilized nations towards the dead.
in an—rather, "the"
upper chamber—(compare 1Ki 17:19).
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. the disciples sent unto Peter—showing that the disciples generally did not possess miraculous gifts [Bengel].
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. all the widows—whom she had clad or fed.
stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas had made—that is, (as the tense implies), showing these as specimens only of what she was in the habit of making.
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.
40-43. Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down—the one in imitation of his Master's way (Lu 8:54; and compare 2Ki 4:33); the other, in striking contrast with it. The kneeling became the lowly servant, but not the Lord Himself, of whom it is never once recorded that he knelt in the performance of a miracle.
opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up—The graphic minuteness of detail here imparts to the narrative an air of charming reality.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
41. he gave her his hand, and lifted her up—as his Lord had done to his own mother-in-law (Mr 1:31).
And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.
43. with one Simon a tanner—a trade regarded by the Jews as half unclean, and consequently disreputable, from the contact with dead animals and blood which was connected with it. For this reason, even by other nations, it is usually carried on at some distance from towns; accordingly, Simon's house was "by the seaside" (Ac 10:6). Peter's lodging there shows him already to some extent above Jewish prejudice.