Acts 11
Pulpit Commentary
And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
Verse 1. - Now for and, A.V.; the brethren for brethren, A.V.; also had for had also, A.V, We can imagine how rapidly the news of the great revolution would travel to the metropolis of Jewish Christianity, and what a stir it would maim in that community. It does not appear what view James and the other apostles took.
And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
Verse 2. - They that were of the circumcision. At first sight this phrase, which was natural enough in Acts 10:45, seems an unnatural one in the then condition of the Church, when all the members of it were "of the circumcision," and there were no Gentile converts at all. But the explanation of it is to be found in the circumstance of St. Luke himself being a Gentile; perhaps also, as Alford suggests, in his use of language suited to the time when he wrote. It is an indication, too, of the purpose of St. Luke in writing his history, viz. to chronicle the progress of Gentile Christianity. Peter, having completed his rounds (Acts 9:32), returned to Jerusalem, which was still the abode of the apostles. He was, no doubt, anxious to commune with his brother apostles upon the momentous matter of the Gentile converts; but he was at once attacked by the bigotry of the zealous Jews.
Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
Verse 3. - Thou wentest in, etc. The circumstance of his eating with Cornelius and his friends is not expressly recorded in Acts 10, but almost necessarily follows from what is there stated. It had been seized upon as the chief sting in their report by those who brought the news to Jerusalem. Observe the total absence of anything like papal domination on the part of Peter.
But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,
Verse 4. - Began and expounded the matter unto them in order for rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, A.V.
I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:
Verse 5. - Descending for descend, A.V.; were for had been, A.V.; unto for to, A.V.
Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
Verse 6. - The four-footed for four-footed, A.V.; heaven for air, A.V.
And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.
Verse 7. - Also a voice for a voice, A.V. and T.R.; rise for arise, A.V.; kilt for day, A.V.
But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
Verse 8. - Ever for at any time, A.V.
But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
Verse 9. - A voice answered the second time out of for the voice answered me again from, A.V. and T.R.; make for call, A.V.
And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
Verse 10. - Thrice for three times, A.V.
And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.
Verse 11. - Forthwith for immediately, A.V.; three men stood before the house in which we were for there were three men already come unto the house where I was, A.V. and T.R.; having been sent for sent, A.V.
And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:
Verse 12. - Making no distinction for nothing doubting, A.V. and T.R.; and.., also for moreover, A.V. Making no distinction. The reading adopted here in the R.T. is διακρίναντα instead of διακρινόμενον in the T.R. The verb διακρίνειν in the active voice means to "make a distinction" or "difference" between one and another, as in Acts 15:9. But in the middle voice διακρίνεσθαι means "to doubt" or "hesitate," as in Acts 10:20. It seems highly improbable that the two passages, which ought to be identical, should thus differ, while employing the very same verb. Some manuscripts, which Afford follows, omit the clause μηδὲν διακρινόμενον altogether. These six brethren; showing that Peter had brought the brethren from Joppa (now specified as six) with him to Jerusalem to substantiate his account; a plain indication that he anticipated some opposition.
And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;
Verse 13. - Told for showed, A.V.; the angel for an angel, A.V.; standing in his house and saying for in his house which stood and said unto him, A.V.; send for send men, A.V. and T.R. fetch for call for, A.V.
Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
Verse 14. - Speak unto for tell, A.V.; thou shalt be saved, thou, etc., for thou and all thy house shall be saved, A.V.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
Verse 15. - Even as for as, A.V.
Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
Verse 16. - And I remembered for then remembered I, A.V. This is a new incident not mentioned in Acts 10. The reference is to Acts 1:5. This saying of the Lord being thus referred to by Peter looks as if Peter might have furnished many of the particulars in the first twelve chapters to Luke.
Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
Verse 17. - If for forasmuch... as, A.V.; unto them for them, A.V.; did also for did, A.V.; when we for who, A.V.; who for what, A.V. The saying, Who was I, that I could withstand (κωλῦσαι)? corresponds to Acts 10:47, "Can any man forbid (κωλῦσαι) water?"
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
Verse 18. - And when for when, A.V.; then to the Gentiles also hath God granted for then hath God also to the Gentiles granted, A.V. The fitness of the method adopted by the Divine wisdom for effecting this first reception of Gentiles into the Church upon an equal footing with the Jews is apparent from its success in quieting the jealous prejudices of the Jews, and preserving the peace of the Church. It was still, however, long before the exclusive spirit of Judaism was quenched (see Acts 15. and Galatians 1:6, 7; Galatians 2:4, 11, 12, 13; Galatians 5:2-12; Philippians 3:2, etc.).
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
Verse 19. - They therefore that for now they which, A.V.; tribulation for persecution, A.V.; Phoenicia for Phenice, A.V.; speaking for preaching, A.V.; save only to Jews for but unto the Jews only, A.V. Scattered abroad; as in Acts 8:1, to which point of time the narrative now reverts. Tribulation (θλίψις). The word in Acts 8:1 for "persecution" is διωγμός. Phoenicia. "The strip of coast, one hundred and twenty miles long, and about twelve broad, from the river Eleutherus" to a little south of Carmel, as far as Dora, including, therefore, Sidon and Tyre, but excluding Ceasarea. The name was preserved in the great Tyrian colony of Carthage, as appears in the ethnic forms, Paenus, Punicus, and Paeuicus, applied to the Carthaginians. We are all familiar with the "Punic Wars," Punica fides, the 'Paenulus' of Plautus, etc. Cyprus lies off the coast of Phoenicia, in sight of it, and was very early colonized by the Phoenicians. Philo and Josephus both speak of the Jewish population in Cyprus. Antioch, the capital of the Greek kingdom of Syria, on the river Orontes, built by the first king, Seleueus Nicater, in honor of his father Antiochus, who was one of Alexander the Great's generals. It lay about one hundred and eighty miles north of the northern frontier of Phoenicia. There was a large population of Jews, whom Seleucus attracted to his new city by giving them equal political privileges with the Greeks. It was reckoned by Josephus to be the third city in importance of the whole Roman empire, Rome and Alexandria being the two first.
And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Verse 20. But there were some of them... who for and some of them were.., which, A.V.; the Greeks also for the Grecians, A.V. and T.R. This last is a most important variation of reading - Ἑλλῆνας, Greeks for Ἑλληνίστας, Grecians, i.e. Grecian Jews, or Hellenists. It is supported, however, by strong authority of manuscripts, versions, and Fathers, and is accepted by Grotius, Witsius, Griesbach, Lachman, Tischendorf, Meyer, Conybeare and Howson, Alford, Westcott, Bishop Lightfoot, and the 'Speaker's Commentary' (apparently) and most modern critics. It is also strongly argued that the internal evidence proves Ἑλλῆνας to be the right reading, because the statement that the men of Cyprus and Cyrene preached the gospel to them is contrasted with the action of the others, who preached to the Jews only. Obviously, therefore, these Hellenes were not Jews. Moreover, there was nothing novel in the conversion and admission into the Church of Hellenistic Jews (see Acts 2:5, etc.; Acts 9:22, 29). And these very preachers were in all probability Hellenists themselves. Bishop Wordsworth, however, on the contrary, defends, though with doubt, the reading Ἑλληνίστας; and argues that even if Ἑλλῆνας is the right reading, it must mean the same as Ἑλληνίστας. He also hints that it might mean "proselytes" (see Acts 14:1, where the Hellenes attend the synagogue, and Acts 17:4). But there is no evidence that these were proselytes any more than Cornelius was. The Hellenes, or Greeks, here were probably uncircumcised Greeks who feared God, like Cornelius, and attended the synagogue worship (see Meyer on Acts 14:1). It is very likely that in Antioch, where the Jews occupied such a prominent position, some of the Greek inhabitants should be attracted by their doctrines and worship, repelled, perhaps, by the prevalent superstitions and profligate levity of the great city.
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
Verse 21. - That believed turned for believed and turned, A.V. and T.R. The hand of the Lord; i.e. his power working with them and through them. Compare the frequent phrase in the Old Testament, "with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm" (see too Acts 4:30; Luke 1:66).
Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
Verse 22. - And the report concerning them for then tidings of these things, A.V.; to for unto, A.V.; as far as for that he should go as far as, A.V. and T.R. The news of this accession of Gentiles to the Church was quickly carried to Jerusalem, with the same motive, probably, that brought thither the account of the baptism of Cornelius and his household, as we read in vers. 1-3 of this chapter. The conduct of the Church in sending so excellent and temperate a person. as Barnabas (as we read in the next verse), the friend of Saul (Acts 9:27) and a favorer of preaching the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 13:1, 2) to inspect the work at Antioch, is an indication that they had already heard the account of the conversion of Cornelius from the mouth of Peter, and were already led to the conclusion, "Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life!" There is no clue whatever to the length of time that elapsed between the flight from persecution and the arrival at Antioch, except that Saul had had time to sojourn three years in Arabia, to come to Jerusalem, and from thence to go and settle at Tarsus, where Barnabas found him; thus leaving abundant time for Peter's operations in Judaea and Caesarea.
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
Verse 23. - Was come for came, A.V.; he exhorted for exhorted., A.V. Had seen the grace of God; i.e. had seen the number and the truth of the conversions of Gentiles effected by God's grace. He exhorted them all (παρεκάλει πάντας); thus showing himself a true υἱὸς παρακλήσεως, son of exhortation (see Acts 4:36, note). Cleave unto the Lord; προσμένειν, to abide, continue, persevere in (comp. Acts 13:43; 1 Timothy 5:5). In 2 Timothy 3:14 it is simply μένε. The frequent exhortations to perseverance and steadfastness should warn us of the great danger of falling away from the faith, under the pressure of temptation.
For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
Verse 24. - A good man. The predominant idea in ἀγαθός is simply "goodness," moral excellence. So in Matthew 19:16, "Good Master." To which our Lord answers, "There is none good but One." In Luke 23:50 Joseph of Arimathaea is ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς καὶ δίκαιος, "a good man and a righteous." In Matthew 5:45 πονηροὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί, "the evil and the good," are contrasted. In classical Greek the common phrase, καλὸς κἀγαθός, describes an honorable and good man. It is pleasing to read this testimony from Luke, Paul's companion and friend, Full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. So Stephen is described (Acts 6:5) as "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit is spoken of in both places as a Spirit of power and demonstration in preaching the Word. No reason is apparent why the R.T., having altered Ghost to Spirit in Acts 6:5, retains Ghost here. Much people, etc.; the direct consequence of the energy of the Holy Ghost in Barnabas's ministry.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
Verse 25. - And he went forth for then departed Barnabas, A.V. and T.R.; to seek for, for for to seek, A.V. Observe the remarkable providence which had made use of the violence of the Hellenist Jews at Jerusalem to drive Saul to Tarsus, where he would be close at hand to take up the work so unexpectedly prepared for him at Antioch. "It was in the spring of the year A.D. , or just ten years after the Crucifixion, that Barnabas proceeded to Tarsus, found Saul, and brought him to Antioch" (Lewin, 1:96). From Seleucia to the port of Tarsus would be about a twelve hours' sail; or, by land, a journey of about eighty miles would bring him to Tarsus from Antioch.
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Verse 26. - Even for a whole year for a whole year, A.V. and T.R.; they were gathered together for they assembled themselves, A.V.; and that the disciples for and the disciples, A.V. The phrase ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ occurs again in 1 Corinthians 11:18 (T.R.), where it has, as here, very nearly the sense of "in the church," as a place of meeting. It should be "in," not "with." The "Church" is the assembly of disciples gathered together in their house of meeting. Were called; χρηματίσαι, bore the name cf. It is a peculiar use of the word occurring in the New Testament only in Romans 7:3 besides, but found also in Polybius, Strabo, Josephus, and some other writers. Its common meaning is, in the passive voice, "to be warned of God," as in Acts 10:22, where see note. Christians. It was a memorable event in the history of the Church when the name of Christians, which has distinguished them for nearly eighteen centuries and a half, was given to the disciples of Christ. Hitherto they had been called among themselves disciples, and brethren, and saints, and, by the Jews, men "of the Way" (Acts 9:2), or "Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5), but now they received the name of Christians, as followers of Christ, from the outside world, and accepted it themselves (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). From the Latin form of the word Christians, i.e. followers of Christ (like Herodians, followers of Herod; Marians, Pompeians, partisans of Marius and Pompey; Caesariani, Ciceroniani, Vitelliani, Flaviani, etc.; Conybeare and Howson, vol. 1:130; Lewin, vol. 1:97), the designation most have been invented by the Gentiles, either by the Roman court or camp at Antioch, or by the Greek population, influenced as they were by Roman forms of speech current amongst them (compare the Greece-Oriental Nestorians, Arians, etc.). We may be sure that Christians, i.e. followers of Messiah, is not a name likely to have been given by Jews. There is no evidence either of its having been given in derision. The well-known account of Tacitus is "Vulgus Christianos appella-bat. Auctor nominis ejus Christus, Tiberio imperitante, per Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat" ('Annal.,' 15:44). Suidas says that those who had been previously called Nazarenes and Galileans, in the reign of Claudius Caesar, when Euodius had been made Bishop of Antioch by Peter, had their name changed into that of Christians. He seems to refer to the statement of Malalas (quoted by Conybeare and Howson, 1:131), that they who had been before called Nazarenes and Galileans received the name of Christians in the time of Euodius, who succeeded St. Peter as Bishop of Antioch, and who himself gave them this name." Malalas is thought to have lived somewhere between the sixth and ninth centuries, at Byzantium. A beautiful passage in the Clementine Liturgy is also quoted at p. 130: "We give thee thanks that we are called by the Name of thy Christ, and are thus reckoned as thine own," where the allusion is to James 2:7. The name Christian is frequent in the epistles of Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch; Polycarp's dying words were, "I am a Christian" (Bishop Wordsworth).
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
Verse 27. - Now for and, A.V.; there came down for came, A.V. (see Acts 18:22). Prophets; a recognized order in the Church at that time (Acts 2:17, 18`13:1; 20:23; 21:9, 10; 1 Corinthians 12:28, 29; Ephesians 4:11). The news of the accession of the Gentiles to the Church of Antioch would naturally lead to such prophets being either sent by the Church of Jerusalem or coming of their own accord.
And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
Verse 28. - A great famine for great dearth, A.V.; over for throughout, A.V.; Claudius for Claudius Caesar, A.V. and T.R. The world; ἡ οἰκουμένη, the inhabited earth, the common expression for the whole Roman empire. But the expression must be taken bore as hyperbolical, just as Josephus says that Ahab sent messengers to search for Elijah, κατὰ πᾶσαν τὴν οικουμένην, where, of course, only the neighboring countries to Judaea can be meant, strictly speaking ('Ant. Jud.,'8. 13:4). But there is no evidence to show that ἡ οικουμένη, is ever a technical term for Judaea. See the use of the word by Luke (Luke 2:1; Luke 4:5; Luke 21:26; Acts 17:6, 31; Acts 19:27; Acts 24:5). In point of fact, the predicted famine, which began in the fourth year of Claudius Caesar (A.D. 44) and lasted till A.D. , fell upon Judea exclusively, as far as appears from Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' lit. 15:3; 20. 2:5, 5:2), and was very severe there. Ishmael was high priest at the time; and Helena, Queen of Adiahene, fetched large supplies of corn from Egypt and of figs from Cyprus to Jerusalem, to supply the wants of the people. Eusebius ('Eccl. Hist.,' 2:8) speaks of this famine as having prevailed "over the world," and as being recorded by authors hostile to Christianity, but mentions no names and gives no particulars ('Eccl. Hist.,' 2:8), but in the twelfth chapter of the same book he limits it to τὴν Ιουδαίαν, Judaea. There were several other historical famines in the reign of Claudius, but they can hardly be included in the prophecy of Agabus. The prophet Agabus is mentioned again in Acts 21:10, and again as coming from Judaea. Renan ascribes the poverty-stricken condition of the Jerusalem Christians to their communistic institutions.
Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
Verse 29. - And for then, A.V.; that for which, A.V. This is the first example of the practice, so much encouraged by St. Paul, of the Gentile Churches contributing to the wants of the poor Christians of the mother Church of Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 9; Galatians 2:10, etc.).
Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Verse 30. - Sending for and sent, A.V.; hand for hands, A.V. Sending (ἀποστείλαντες᾿. Those by whom they sent were ἀπόστολοι (2 Corinthians 8:23), messengers, or apostles, To the elders. This is the first mention of presbyters, or elders, in the Church at Jerusalem, which was now fully organized. James the Less was the resident apostle (?) and bishop; with him were the presbyters (Acts 21:18); and under them again the seven deacons (Acts 6:5, 6). The presbyters of the Church of Jerusalem are mentioned again in Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; Acts 16:4; Acts 21:18; James 5:13, where, however, the elders of other Churches in Judaea may possibly be included. A difficulty arises with regard to Saul's mission to Jerusalem with Barnabas, as to how to reconcile it with Galatians 2:1, which speaks of St. Paul's second visit to Jerusalem as taking place fourteen years after his first, whereas this visit could not be above four or five years after. But there are three hypotheses about the visit to Jerusalem referred to in Galatians 2.

1. The first identifies it with the visit here recorded.

2. The second identifies it with that related in Acts 15:2, etc., which is supported by most of the best authorities ancient and modern (see note on Acts 15.).

3. The third, which is advocated by Lewin ('Life of St. Paul,' vol. 1:302, etc.), identifies it with the visit recorded in Acts 18:22. As regards the first, with which we are now concerned, though at first sight you would have ex-peered St. Paul's next visit to Jerusalem after his conversion to be the one alluded to in Galatians it., yet the following circumstances make this impossible.

(1) The date of the visit named in Galatians it, which is distinctly stated to be fourteen years after that recorded in Acts 9:26 (ἔπειτα διὰ δεκατεσσάρων ἐτῶν πάλιν ἀνέβην κ.τ.λ.).

(2) When St. Paul went to Jerusalem on the occasion adverted to in Galatians it.," he laid before them the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles." But at the time of this visit he had not yet begun his labors among the Gentiles (ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσι), to which he was only called after his return (Acts 13:2).

(3) On the occasion spoken of in Galatians it, Paul and Barnabas were received by the chief apostles, and must have passed a considerable time at Jerusalem, with many consultations and meetings, public and private. But on this occasion, as far as appears, their visit was a very hasty one, and they saw no one but the presbyters, and returned as soon as they had handed over the collection to them (Acts 12:25). The conclusion, therefore, seems quite certain that this is not the visit referred to in Galatians it. And the hasty nature of this visit explains at once why St. Paul made no count of it in his statement to the Galatians. It had no bearing upon the course of his argument. It was not a visit to Jerusalem in the sense in which he was speaking, and he saw none of the apostles. The state of the Church at the time, James the son of Zebedee killed, Peter in prison or lately escaped "to another place" (Acts 12:17), the other apostles very likely dispersed, made it impossible. He therefore took no count of it in his statement to the Galatians. This seems quite a sufficient explanation (see the note of Bishop Ellicott on Galatians 2:1, and Bishop Lightfoot's convincing remarks at p. 113 of his 'Epistle to the Galatians'). There is no occasion to resort to the violent expedient of Renan, and say that Saul did not go with Barnabas at this time.

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