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Saturday, December 2nd, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 5

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This chapter recounts the tragic fall of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), the continued success and popularity of the apostolic mission (Acts 5:12-16), the renewed opposition of the Sanhedrin with another arraignment of the apostles before them (Acts 5:17-32), the purpose of the Sanhedrin to slay the apostles thwarted by Gamaliel, and the beating of the Twelve by the Jewish authorities (Acts 5:33-42).

Verse 1

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.


But … This word clearly connects the event of Barnabas’ generous action which had just been narrated, with what ensues here. As Boles noted, "The two illustrations here were intended to be brought in contrast, as the conjunction ’but’ introduces the sentence." H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Acts (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1953), p. 77.

The parallel with the conquest of Canaan in the Old Testament is evident in this event, this story being to the book of Acts what the story of Achan is to the book of Joshua. "In both, an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God." F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 110. (Joshua 7:1ff).

Ananias and Sapphira … The first of these names means "Jehovah hath been gracious," and "If SAPPHIRA is Greek, it means SAPPHIRE; if Aramaic, it means BEAUTIFUL." J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 824. How tragic is the contrast between these lovely names and what befell those who wore them.

Sold a possession … This does not mean that they sold all that they had, or that they had been commanded to sell anything at all.

The event about to be related was a dramatic change from the wonderful miracles of mercy and healing which, until then, had marked the deeds of the apostles; but it was necessary that the severity of God, as well as his mercy, should be stressed. And, just as Jesus had withered the fig tree, there appeared here "an instance of severity, following the instances of goodness: God is to be both loved and feared." Thomas Scott, Henry-Scott Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 447.

The truth of the narrative of Ananias and Sapphira is guaranteed by its painful character. No historian would have gone out of his way to invent it. J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 825.

As Ramsay saw this narrative, "It is a moral apologue, not as invented to embody a moral, but as remembered because it did so." Sir William M. Ramsay, Pictures of the Apostolic Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 35.

DeWelt was correct in making this wonder the first of a class:

We have witnessed in the past record the evil forces from without, but this chapter opens with the account of the first marks of the evil one within the fold. Don DeWelt, Acts Made Actual (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1958), p. 73.

Wesley, however, it seems to us, was wrong in his view of this incident as "the first attempt to bring propriety of goods into the Christian Church." John Wesley, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House), in loco. Very few scholars have ever agreed with Wesley on this. See under Acts 5:4.

Verse 2

And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

"This means that they secretly kept back a part, while professedly devoting all to God." Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p.93. Their sin was that of pretending to a degree of generosity higher than they actually possessed, a pretense which they had determined to support with falsehood.

The excessive enormity of this sin, in context, was that it placed in jeopardy the entire Christian movement. As Lange said, "It involved the whole church in very great danger." John Peter Lange, Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1866), p. 85.

The apostles of Christ, after their baptism in the Holy Spirit, were inspired men, able to perform miracles and to discern the thoughts of men. They claimed infallibility, as having been guided into all truth by the blessed Spirit in them; and, if such a fraud as that undertaken by Ananias and Sapphira had been successful, it would have discredited the central authority of God’s church upon the earth. The sale of a piece of land, as well as the price paid and received, could not long have been concealed, since such things have been in the public records of every generation; and, if the deception had succeeded, the word of the apostles themselves would have been suspect. There was no way that God could have permitted such a discreditation of his foreordained witnesses of the resurrection. Nor is this the only miracle that guarded the witness of the apostles. Herod was stricken to death (Acts 12:23); angels repeatedly intervened upon their behalf; and it is in this frame of reference that the significance of this frightful wonder appears.

Verse 3

But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land?

As Boles said, "This is the first sin recorded against any member of the Church." H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 78. It might not be the first ever committed by a member, but it is the first one mentioned in the New Testament.

Why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie … The malignant personality of the evil one is affirmed by this apostolic question; but it should be noted that, although instigated by Satan, the sin was still reckoned as the responsibility of Ananias. Thus yielding to evil desires.

Note also that the sin was not in keeping back part of the price of the land, but in his doing so while pretending that he was giving all of it to the work of the Lord. Both of these facts were pointed out by Peter in the very next verse.

To lie to the Holy Spirit … How was it that this sin was a lie to the Holy Spirit? Many have supposed that this came about through the fact of the apostles’ having been baptized in the Holy Spirit; but there is more to it than that. As Scott said:

It is true that Ananias laid his money at the feet of the apostles, but he had not these alone in view at the time; he intended to influence the opinion and judgment of the whole church; and the Holy Spirit dwells in the whole church. Thomas Scott, op. cit., p. 87.

Verse 4

While it remained, did it not remain thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thy power? How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.

This verse is the emphatic declaration that there was no compulsion whatever upon Ananias, either to sell his land or to give the money afterward. As Barnes expressed it, "This verse proves that there was no obligation imposed on the disciples to sell their property; those who did it did it voluntarily." Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 94. Indeed, these words can hardly be understood in any other way.

Peter’s rebuke of Ananias was administered in the Holy Spirit; and there is not the slightest hint that Peter struck Ananias dead, or even that God had told Peter that such a thing would occur. Like the shaking of the house when they all prayed (Acts 4:31), this was something God did independently of any apostolic volition. We must disagree with all those commentators who, like Bruce, seem to be outraged by the marvel of this double death. He said, "Try how we may, we cannot imagine Christ acting toward sinners as St. Peter is here represented as doing." F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 112.

Well, why not? Did not Christ say of himself, and represent himself as saying, "But those mine enemies that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me!" (Luke 19:27). Men simply do not like to think of God or Christ as a being whom they should fear; and such a narrative as this was designed to correct such an inadequate conception of deity.

Verse 5

And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the ghost: and great fear came upon all that heard it.

This sudden physical death of Ananias and his wife (a little later) has been taken by some to imply also their loss eternally; and, while not pretending to know if this is true or not, this writer inclines toward the possibility suggested by Bruce:

It may have been an act of mercy as well, if we think of the incident in the light of Paul’s words about another offender against the Christian community: "Deliver such a one unto the destruction of the flesh, that the Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5). Ibid., p. 114.

Those who view this act of divine judgment against this couple as some kind of vindictive and spiteful punishment inflicted by the apostle Peter are totally wrong. It was not Peter, but God, who executed this extreme penalty; and the contrast of it with the longsuffering and forbearance of the Father concerning the sins of the whole race leads to the conclusion that there were the most weighty reasons for what God did here.

Great fear came upon all … Many no doubt had been tempted like Ananias and Sapphira to pretend a holiness they did not possess; and this sudden judgment led to the widespread conclusion among them to the effect that "There but for the grace of God am I." This divine act, therefore, had the consequence of impressing upon the young church the awful reprobacy of sin, and of warning non-Christians of the danger of associating themselves with the new and popular movement for purely selfish motives. This great fear upon both Christians and outsiders was "precisely the effect desired." J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 85.

Verse 6

And the young men arose and wrapped him round, and then carried him out and buried him.

Sapphira was not notified; no mourning was mentioned; no delay was made; and, in such circumstances, apostolic authority must be assigned as their cause. The natural thing, upon the death of Ananias, would have been the seeking and informing of his wife; but no such amenity was permitted. The apostles accepted the occurrence as a divine judgment against sin, remembering no doubt that "severe examples had also occurred" B. W. Johnson, The New Testament with Explanatory Notes (Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, n.d.), p. 434. in the days of Moses, as in the cases of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1,2) and of Achan (Joshua 7:16-25).

Verses 7-8

And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much. And she said, Yea, for so much.

However the divine judgment must have shocked and surprised Peter, in the case of Ananias, he could not have been unaware of the judgment that would befall Sapphira in case she was guilty. What a dreadful fear must have fallen upon the assembly as Sapphira made her entry. "Can you imagine the silence as her examination proceeded? Her unhesitating reply proved they had conspired together." W. R. Walker, Studies in Acts (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, n.d.), p. 39.

Sold the land … This is the first intimation that identifies the property sold as "land." As Ramsey observed:

The whole circumstances are not explained at the outset. The reader learns them piecemeal, as the spectators learned them. Such an account is clearly marked as resting on eyewitness. We have a real occurrence remembered and described as it happened. Sir William Ramsay, op. cit., p. 33.

Verse 9

But Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them that have buried thy husband are at the door, and they shall carry thee out.

Peter knew that the same penalty of death which befell Ananias would also fall upon Sapphira; and the timing of the young men’s return from the burial of Ananias further confirmed Peter’s certainty of what would ensue.

Try the Spirit of the Lord … It is significant that three different expressions appear in this narrative as being synonymous:

"Lie to the Holy Spirit" … Acts 5:3.

"Lied not unto men, but unto God" … Acts 5:4.

"Try the Spirit of the Lord" … Acts 5:9.

Verses 10-11

And she fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up the ghost: and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all that heard these things.

The proper understanding of this was outlined by McGarvey thus:

We regard her death, like that of her husband, wrought independently of the power lodged in the apostle; and it seems to have been so regarded by the authorities in Jerusalem … no charge of murder was preferred, as might have been the case if the act had been understood differently. J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 86.

Fear came upon the whole church … See under Acts 5:5. "The occurrence of the word ’church’ in Acts 5:11 is its first occurrence in the original text of Acts." F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 116. The fear, mentioned twice in this narrative, came not only upon Christians, but upon all who heard what had happened. Dummelow is also among those writers who are unwilling to accept a judgment of eternal damnation upon this unfortunate couple. He said, "It is not necessary to suppose that Ananias and Sapphira were eternally lost. After this terrible punishment, they may have been forgiven." J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 825. However, this writer believes that such a speculation is dangerous. It is best to leave unresolved those questions upon which there is not a clear word from the Lord.

Verse 12

And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people: and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.


Two results of the utmost importance came from the mighty signs and wonders done by the Twelve, these being (1) their power and authority were vastly strengthened; and (2) the forward thrust of Christianity was greatly augmented. We agree with Hervey who noted that the miracles were wrought "exclusively by the hands of the apostles." A. C. Hervey, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1950), Vol. 18, p. 158. The recurrence of the phrase, "by the apostles" or "by the hands of the apostles," affords positive proof that the one hundred disciples mentioned in the first chapter had no part in the baptism of the Holy Spirit which endowed the Twelve with the fantastic powers visible in the book of Acts.

Verse 13

But of the rest durst no man join himself to them: howbeit the people magnified them.

The rest … refers to the non-Christian community, who, although afraid to unite with the community of faith, nevertheless praised and lauded the holiness preached and practiced among them.

Join himself … This makes "joining the church" a Scriptural phrase, as further corroborated by Acts 9:26. Hervey said that "The expression, ’join himself’ occurs ten times in the New Testament, of which seven are in Luke or the book of Acts." Ibid.

Verse 14

And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.

Both men and women … From the very first, the church operated upon the principles later enunciated by Paul, "that there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Also, as Root noted:

The membership in the apostolic church was of adult believers exclusively; children below the age of responsibility could be neither "believers" nor "men and women." Orin Root, Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1966), p. 37.

Verse 15

Insomuch that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that, as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some of them.

The sacred author does not tell us that any of the people upon whom Peter’s shadow fell were healed; and from this it would appear that the purpose of including this is to emphasize the overwhelming popularity that attached to the Twelve. Adam Clarke took the view that:

I cannot see all the miraculous influence here that others profess to see … It does not appear that the persons who thus thought and acted were converts already made to the faith of Christ; nor does it appear that any person was healed in this way. Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1937), Vol. V, p. 717.

Likewise, Lange refused the premise that people were healed by Peter’s shadow, saying:

Luke testified, particularly at the close of Acts 5:16, that Peter performed many miracles of healing, but he does not describe the mode … It is, however, also possible that in some instances, sick persons, whose faith had prepared them to receive the gift of health, were restored without their actually having been touched by Peter. John Peter Lange, op. cit., p. 90.

Verse 16

And there also came together the multitude from cities round about Jerusalem, bringing sick folk, and them that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.

Every one … There were no failures among the cures wrought by the Twelve, thus making it clear that the phenomenon in view here was in no manner akin to the faith healing crusades of our own day, in which failure is their principal feature and the "cure" is always questionable.

Verses 17-18

But the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in the public ward.


As Campbell said:

The Sadducees saw in Christ’s resurrection the refutation of their system; and therefore they violently seized the apostles, because their preaching that doctrine was fatal to their distinguishing tenets. Alexander Campbell, Acts of Apostles (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1859), p. 33.

Put them in public ward … has the meaning of "put them in the common jail."

Verses 19-20

But an angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them out, and said, Go ye, and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life.

An angel of the Lord … This is another of the supernatural wonders that attended the inception of Christianity. In the very nature of things, the new faith could never have been established without the providence of God. Jesus had promised that he would be "with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20); and of course he was. All of the powers of hell would be frustrated in the establishment of the true faith on earth.

All the words of this Life … This means all the words relative to the eternal life in Jesus Christ. A similar meaning is in John 6:68, in which is recorded Peter’s words, "Thou only hast the words of eternal life." As Plumptre pointed out:

The "life in Christ" which the apostles preach is that eternal life which consists in knowing God (John 17:1), and in which the angels are sharers. E. H. Plumptre, Ellicott’s Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), Acts, p. 29.

Verse 21

And when they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and taught, But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison-house to have them brought.

They entered … and taught … The purpose of the heavenly intervention on behalf of the Twelve is noted below.

The council … and the senate … The supposition of some scholars, as mentioned by Russell, seems the best explanation of this unusual word "senate" He said:

Some scholars have suggested that "senate of the children of Israel" was added by Luke for the benefit of Theophilus to whom he wrote and who, though a Roman official, was probably a Greek by birth and would more readily understand the nature of the Jewish Sanhedrin by speaking of it as a senate. John William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 29.

The above supposition appears reasonable, and we therefore view the words "council" and "senate" as synonyms for "Sanhedrin." Others suppose that the reference is to a group of elders, or leading citizens, who were associated with the Sanhedrin on special occasions in the decision of unusually heavy matters; but nothing of this kind is mentioned in the Scriptures.

The particular session in view here, however, was to be the occasion of quite a surprise. One may only imagine the discomfiture of the high priest upon sending for the prisoners to learn that they had escaped the maximum security prison.

The purpose of the angelic rescue of the Twelve from prison was in no wise connected with their personal safety; for the angel’s directive still left them vulnerable to the persecution of the priests. It must be concluded, then, that the purpose of their release was to procure the continuation of their preaching of the word of God to the people. None of the miracles wrought upon the apostles, or through them, or upon their behalf should be viewed as anything other than God’s working with them for the preaching of the gospel.

Verses 22-24

But the officers that came found them not in the prison; and they returned and told, saying, The prison-house we found shut in all safety, and the keepers standing at the door; but when we opened, we found no man within. Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed whereunto this would grow.

"Sign after sign was given the hard-hearted leaders of Israel, but they remained adamant." W. R. Walker, op. cit., p. 45. Under the circumstances, they could not have failed to know that God was with the apostles of Christ, but they were determined to carry forward their opposition.

Perplexed … The reason for this perplexity does not seem to be any doubt of how the apostles escaped, but rather a perplexity regarding the rapid spreading of the kingdom, which had already grown far beyond anything they could have thought possible. It seems to have been utterly beyond their comprehension that God would remove their whole nation rather than allow them permanently to block the world-wide proclamation of the faith in Christ.

Captain of the temple … See note on this official under Acts 4:1.

Verses 25-27

And there came one and told them, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them, but without violence; for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them.

Lest they should be stoned … The popularity of the new faith was such, at the moment, that the Sadducean priests simply did not dare to arouse the anger of the Jerusalem mob. It is not to be thought that the Christians would have stoned the officers, although some of the new converts might have joined in such a resistance, but rather that the non-Christians whose sympathies were all with the disciples might have broken into violence if provoked.

Verse 28

Saying, We strictly charged you not to teach in this name: and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.

In this name … It is nearly incredible, the hatred which the Jewish religious hierarchy had for the blessed name of Jesus, which name they simply would not pronounce under any circumstances, saying "this name," as here, instead, and always referring to him as "this man" or "that man."

In this narrative of the apostles’ escape from prison, just related, some critics have found what they believe to be a somewhat stereotyped "form" of such escape episodes in ancient classical literature, claiming from this, of course, that the episode before us is questionable. However, the form-critical approach to the New Testament is by far the weakest criticism ever alleged against it, being totally unworthy of any particular attention. As Bruce warned:

In this as in all form-critical studies it must be remembered that the material is more important than the form; meat pies and mud pies may be made in pie-dishes of identical shape, but the identity of shape is the least important consideration in comparing the two kinds of pies! F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 120.

Bring this man’s blood upon us … What a monstrous protest was this! These were the men who screamed, "His blood be upon us and upon our children!" but now they are very unwilling to face the guilt they incurred. As Scott noted:

See how those who with presumption will do an evil thing, yet cannot bear to hear of it afterward, or to have it charged upon them. They could cry daringly enough, "His blood be on us"; but now they take it as a heinous affront to have Christ’s blood laid upon them. Thomas Scott, op. cit., p. 450.

Verse 29

But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than men.

There was no device by which the powerful priestly enemies of the Lord and his apostles could intimidate the witnesses of his resurrection. They were here bluntly told by the apostles that they were subject to God’s orders, rather than to the Sanhedrin’s prejudice. A new age had dawned, and the religious leaders could not prevent it.

Verse 30

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging him on a tree.

In this verse appears another instance of Peter’s speeches, as recorded by Luke, stressing the same thought and expressing it in terminology similar (see 1 Peter 2:24) to that in Peter’s epistles.

Twice in Acts (Acts 5:30; 10:39) Jesus’ death is significantly called "hanging on a tree." This phrase points back to the Jewish belief that a man "hanged on a tree" was a man "accursed by God" (Deuteronomy 21:22f). Anyone who so described Christ’s death had not only seen the "scandal" of the cross but had somehow divined that he bore the cross for others. Archibald M. Hunter, Introducing New Testament Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), p. 74.

DeWelt pointed out that Peter’s speech here has the effect of replying to the Sadducees’ protest in Acts 5:28 against bringing "this man’s blood upon us," and carries the meaning of "We intended to convey the thought that the blood of Jesus is upon your heads; for you slew him and hanged him on a tree." Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 81.

Verse 31

Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.

It is implied that repentance as well as remission of sins is a gift; but to give repentance cannot mean to bestow it without an exercise of our own will; for repentance itself is an act of our will. J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 95.

Repentance to Israel … This statement that Israel needed to repent was totally unacceptable to the Sanhedrin. That they, the religious leaders of the people, needed to repent was preposterous in their eyes. As Walker said:

They were as much incensed as a body of bishops would be today, if the same charge should be made against them. They had absolute confidence that their descent from Abraham guaranteed them complete possession of every promise of the Old Testament. W. R. Walker, op. cit., p. 47.

Prince and a Saviour … The word "prince" has the meaning of "Author," as in the "Author of eternal Life," being the same word as in Acts 3:15.

Verse 32

And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

In the history of holy truth, there has never been any such thing as God’s giving the Holy Spirit to men in order to make them obedient, or to make them sons, or to save them, or to procure the remission of their sins, or any such thing. On Pentecost, Peter had commanded believers to repent and be baptized with the promise that those who did so, receiving the remission of their sins subsequently to their obeying those commands, would also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "Obey," as used here, indicates that "a lifelong obedience to God." Orin Root, op. cit., p. 40. was a continuing condition to be fulfilled by those desiring to enjoy the continuing gift of the Holy Spirit. See Galatians 4:6, where it is declared that the Holy Spirit is given to men, not to make them sons, but as a consequence of their already being sons. The popular notion to the effect that God sends the Holy Spirit with the purpose of making men desire to serve God is totally wrong.

Verse 33

But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and were minded to slay them.


The sermon the apostles had just given was identical in all essentials to the one delivered on Pentecost; but the results produced by the declaration of the gospel were opposite in kind. On Pentecost the people were pricked in the heart, which means they believed; and here the priests were cut to the heart, which means they were infuriated and filled with murderous thoughts. Even the apostles seemed to marvel at such a thing; for it was made the subject of Paul’s comment that the gospel saved some and destroyed others, was an odor of life to some and an odor of death to others (2 Corinthians 2:15,16). "It is the set of the sail, and not the gale, that determines the way we go."

Verse 34

But there stood up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in honor of all the people, and commanded to put the men forth a little while.

Regarding Gamaliel:

Josephus the Jewish historian tells us that the party of the Pharisees was small in number but commanded such popularity and influence among the people that the Sadducees dared not take any action that the Pharisees opposed. The influence of Gamaliel’s advice reflects that situation. Everett J. Harrison, op. cit., p. 401.

Furthermore, Gamaliel himself was a man of heroic stature among the Jews of that generation. Saul of Tarsus had been his pupil. (Acts 22:3); and he was widely hailed as the greatest teacher of the Law in his day. Lightfoot further embellished the reputation of Gamaliel by affirming that he was the son of that Simon who took the Saviour in his arms (Luke 2), and the grandson of the famous Hillel. He is said to have died eighteen years after Jerusalem was destroyed, and that he died, as he had lived, a Pharisee. Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 104.

It is a mistake to view Gamaliel as any true friend of the apostles, his advice in the instance before us being founded utterly upon policy, rather than upon any belief of the truth which the apostles proclaimed.

Verses 35-36

And he said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves as touching these men, what ye are about to do. For before these days rose up Theudas, giving himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to naught.

Theudas … The fact that the historian Josephus records the uprising led by a Theudas as occurring about fifteen years following the date of Gamaliel’s speech in this passage has been cited by some scholars as an anachronism; but the dogmatic prejudice of critics on this point is based upon the very weakest of arguments, the most notable of which is that, in the case of conflicting dates, Josephus is more trustworthy than Luke. It is quite the opposite; it is not Luke but Josephus who is wrong in this instance, as in so many others. As Lewis pointed out, there is also the possibility that different incidents were referred to in Acts and in Josephus, there having been many uprisings during the period of which Gamaliel spoke, "providing the possibility that another Theudas may have led one of them." Jack P. Lewis, Historical Backgrounds of Bible History (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971), p. 170. Furthermore, regarding the "unlikelihood" that two men named Theudas could have led uprisings, there are entirely too many examples of such things in history to justify the notion that it could not have happened here. McGarvey mentioned two rebellions in Ireland in 1848 and 1891, both being led by a William Smith O’Brien, and two other disturbances in Great Britain in 1800 and in 1890, both of which were led by a Parnell. J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 99. If a similar thing did not occur in the event mentioned here, and if it could be proved that Gamaliel and Josephus were speaking of the same episode, such would be proof that Josephus erred in his chronology, an error that J.B. Lightfoot did not hesitate to attribute to him, saying, "Josephus has made a slip in his chronology." Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 721.

The point of Gamaliel’s appeal to the example of Theudas was simply that God did not bless his efforts and that all came to naught, with the application that without God’s blessing, the work of the apostles would also fail. He then gave another example of the same thing.

Verse 37

And after this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some of the people after him: he also perished; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad.

Judas … was said to have been "of Galilee," because that was the seat of his insurrection against Rome; he was also called the Gaulonite, derived from Gamala, his native city in Gaulonitis.

The days of the enrollment … Gamaliel mentioned this, not, because of the enrollment that led to the birth in Bethlehem, but because Judas "was the leader of the Jewish uprising which opposed the census ordered by Augustus, after the deposition of Archelaus." A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 162. The enrollment here, as well as the one that led to Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem, was also carried out by Quirinius.

The point, exactly like that in the narration about Theudas, was that God did not bless the insurrection; and, therefore, it failed.

Verses 38-39

And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God.

As Lange pointed out, the counsel of Gamaliel may prove wise or unwise, depending upon the circumstances of its application. Thus:

I. It is unwise if

A. Made an excuse for judging purely upon the basis of what succeeds or fails, or

B. Made an excuse for deferring a decision that should be made immediately.

II. It is wise

A. If used to inculcate humility in the judgment of others, or

B. Leads to the gentle treatment of those who differ from us in matters of judgment. John Peter Lange, op. cit., p. 101.

In the present instance, God used the counsel of Gamaliel to blunt the murderous intention of the Sanhedrin.

Verse 40

And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles unto them, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

They beat … There was nothing mild about such a punishment. They were brutally beaten with "forty stripes save one, a penalty inflicted upon Paul five times (2 Corinthians 11:24)." J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 825. The excuse for such punishment was the apostles’ disobedience of the Sanhedrin’s injunction against teaching in the name of Jesus, an injunction they issued once more in connection with the punishment.

The fierce Sadducees would have resorted to murder, except for the danger of alienating the Pharisees; and thus it may not be supposed that they were impressed with Gamaliel’s suggestion that they might be fighting against God. Gamaliel’s speech, under the circumstances, "was little less than a guarded admission of the truth"; John William Russell, op. cit. p. 295. but the concern of the Sadducees did not relate to what was true, but to what was popular, or expedient.

Verses 41-42

They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name. And every day, in the temple and at home, they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ.

Rejoicing … What a remarkable occasion for rejoicing was this! It was coming to pass exactly as Jesus had prophesied, saying:

They will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you … and ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake (Matthew 10:17,22).

The Name … means the name of Christ and is here used for the whole corpus of the New Testament teaching regarding salvation in his holy name.

Ceased not to teach and to preach … Teaching and preaching, while similar in the function of conveying information and making arguments, are different in that preaching is "public" teaching, this distinction appearing here in the words "in the temple and at home." They taught privately and in homes where they had opportunity; but they also proclaimed publicly in the temple the wonderful message of Jesus the Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/acts-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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