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Bible Commentaries
Acts 13

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) Now there were in the church that was at Antioch.—The fulness of detail in this narrative suggests the inference that the writer was himself at Antioch at this period.

Certain prophets and teachers.—The two were not necessarily identical, though the higher gift of prophecy commonly included the lower gift of teaching. The former implies a more direct message from God, coming from the Holy Ghost; the latter a more systematic instruction, in which reason and reflection bore their part.

Simeon that was called Niger.—The name seems to indicate the swarth-complexion of Africa; but nothing more is known of him. The epithet was given to him, probably, to distinguish him from the many others of the same name, possibly, in particular, from Simon of Cyrene. (See Note on Acts 11:20.)

Lucius of Cyrene.—Probably one of the company of “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” (Acts 11:20) who had been among the first evangelists of Antioch. On the ground that Cyrene was famous for its School of Medicine, some writers have identified him with the author of the Acts, but the two names Lucius and Lucas are radically distinct, the latter being contracted for Lucanus.

Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch.—Literally, the foster-brother of Herod. Here we enter on a name that has historical associations of some interest. In the early youth of Herod the Great, his future greatness had been foretold by an Essene prophet of the name of Menahem or Manaen (Jos. Ant. xv. 10, § 5). When the prediction was fulfilled, he sought to show honour to the prophet. The identity of name makes it probable that the man who now meets us was the son, or grandson, of the Essene, and that Herod had had him brought up with Antipas as a mark of his favour. Both Antipas and Archelaus were educated at Rome, and Manaen may therefore have accompanied them thither. By what steps he was led to believe in Jesus as the Christ, we can only conjecture; but it seems probable that the austere type of life, so closely resembling that of the Essenes, which was presented by the Baptist, may have impressed him, as he was living in the court of his early companion, and that, through him, he may have been led on to the higher truth, and, in due time, after the Day of Pentecost, have become a sharer in the prophetic gift. The fact that Herod the Great had adorned the city of Antioch with a long and stately colonnade may, perhaps, have given him a certain degree of influence there.

And Saul.—The position of Saul’s name at the end of the list seems to indicate that it was copied from one which had been made before he had become the most prominent of the whole company of the prophets.

Verse 2

(2) As they ministered to the Lord.—The verb so translated (leitourgein) is commonly used, both in the LXX. and in the Now Testament, of the ministry of the priests and Levites in the Temple (Luke 1:23; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:21). In Hebrews 1:14, the corresponding adjective is used to distinguish the ministry of worship from that of service to man. When St. Paul uses it figuratively of himself (Romans 15:16), it is in connection with the idea of a sacrifice or oblation. In later ecclesiastical language, it was connected specially with the celebration of the Supper of the Lord, and the order for that service was, strictly speaking, the “Liturgy” of the Church. It would, perhaps, be too much to say that the word necessarily conveys that meaning here; but it is, at least, probable that a solemn meeting, such as is here described, would end in the “breaking of bread,” and that, up to that point, those who were so engaged would naturally be fasting.

The Holy Ghost said.—The mode of communication we may believe to have been, as in Acts 20:23, through the lips of the prophets, speaking as by a sudden burst of simultaneous inspiration. (Comp. 1 Timothy 1:18.)

Separate me Barnabas and Saul.—In the Greek a particle follows the imperative, which has no exact equivalent in English (the illative “then” being, perhaps, the nearest), but which seems to indicate that the command given was in answer to a prayer, and that it was to be acted on at once. The verb implies that they were to be set apart for a new work. Up to this time they had been among the prophets and teachers of the Church. Now they were to receive a solemn visible mission, following on the inspired utterances, as those had followed on personal intimations, consecrating them to the work of the Apostleship to the Gentiles.

Verse 3

(3) And when they had fasted and prayed.—The repetition of the words that had been used in Acts 13:2 seems to imply that the fast was prolonged till the laying-on of hands had been completed. The new command called for that intensity of spiritual life of which fasting was more or less the normal condition.

And laid their hands on them.—See Note on Acts 6:6. This was, as before, the formal act by which the Church attested its acceptance of the divine mission of those on whom hands were laid, and implored for them the divine blessing.

Verse 4

(4) Being sent forth by the Holy Ghost.—The words may be only a summing up of the result of the previous facts, but looking to Acts 16:6-7, it seems more probable that they refer to a fresh revelation, following on what we should call the “ordination” or “consecration” of the Apostles, and guiding them as to the direction of their journey.

Departed unto Seleucia.—The town was situated at the mouth of the Orontes, about sixteen miles from Antioch, and served as the port for that city. It had been built by, and named after, Seleucus Nicator.

Thence they sailed to Cyprus.—The population of the island was largely Greek, and the name of the chief town at the east end recalled the history or the legend of a colony under Teucer, the son of Telamon, from the Salamis of the Saronic gulf. It owned Aphrodite, or Venus, as its tutelary goddess, Paphos being the chief centre of her worship, which there, as elsewhere, was conspicuous for the licentiousness of the harlot-priestesses of her temple. The copper-mines (the metal Cuprum took its name from the island), and its nearness to Syria, had probably attracted a considerable Jewish population, among whom the gospel had been preached by the Evangelistœ of Acts 11:19. An interesting inscription—the date of which is, however, uncertain, and may be of the second or third century after Christ—given in M. de Cesnola’s Cyprus (p. 422), as found at Golgoi in that island, shows a yearning after something higher than the polytheism of Greece:—


At the foot of the inscription there is the name HELIOS, the Sun, and we may probably see in it a trace of that adoption of the worship of Mithras, or the sun, as the visible symbol of Deity, which, first becoming known to the Romans in the time of Pompeius, led to the general reception of the Dies Solis (= Sunday) as the first day of the Roman week, and which, even in the case of Constantine, mingled with the earlier stages of his progress towards the faith of Christ. (See Note on Acts 17:23.) The narrative that follows implies that the prudence or discernment which distinguished the proconsul may well have shown itself in such a recognition of the unity of the Godhead; and it is worthy of note that M. de Cesnola (Cyprus, p. 425) discovered at Soli, in the same island, another inscription, bearing the name of Paulus the Proconsul, who may, perhaps, be identified with the Sergius Paulus of this narrative.

Verse 5

(5) When they were at Salamis.—The city was, as stated above, at the east end of Cyprus. The mention of “synagogues” implies a considerable Jewish population, and to these the Apostles, following the general rule announced in Acts 13:46, naturally, in the first instance, turned.

They had also John to their minister.—The noun so rendered is not that commonly used for the “deacons” or “ministers” of the Church, but implies rather the attendance of personal service. It is probable, however, that he was employed in baptising converts, and, where a church was founded, in preparing for the Supper of the Lord. Looking to the after-work of Mark, it would hardly, perhaps, be too much to say that he was, more than any other disciple, the courier of the Apostolic Church.

Verse 6

(6) When they had gone through the isle.—The better MSS. give, through the whole island. Paphos lay at its western extremity, and appears to have been the head-quarters of the Roman governor. A local tradition, reported by M. de Cesnola (Cyprus, pp. 29, 223), points out a marble column to which St. Paul was bound and scourged by the citizens of Paphos, who are represented as having been among the most wicked of mankind.

They found a certain sorcerer.—The word so rendered, Magos, is the same as that used for the “wise men” of Matthew 2:1 (where see Note), but it is obviously used here in the bad sense which had begun to attach to it even in the days of Sophocles, who makes Œdipus revile Tiresias under this name, as practising magic arts (Œd. Rex. 387), and which we have found in the case of Simon the sorcerer. (See Note on Acts 8:9.) The man bore two names, one, Bar-jesus, in its form a patronymic, the other Elymas (an Aramaic word, probably connected with the Arabic Ulema, or sage), a title describing his claims to wisdom and supernatural powers. We have already met with a character of this type in the sorcerer of Samaria. (See Note on Acts 8:9.) The lower class of Jews here, as in Acts 19:14, seem to have been specially addicted to such practices. They traded on the religious prestige of their race, and boasted, in addition to their sacred books, of spells and charms that had come down to them from Solomon.

Verse 7

(7) Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulius.—The translators consistently use the word “deputy” as representing the Greek for “proconsul.” It will be remembered that it was applied, under Elizabeth and James, to the governor, known in more recent times as the Viceroy, or Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and was therefore a very close approximation to the meaning of the Latin. The provinces of the Roman empire, under the organisation of Augustus, were divided (B.C. 27) into two classes. Those that were looked on as needing direct military control were placed under the emperor as commander of the legions, and were governed by proprætors, or generals; the others were left to the Senate, and were under the rule of proconsuls. Strabo (xiv. ad fin.) describes Cyprus as a military or proprætorian province, and this has led some to question St. Luke’s accuracy. It appears, however, that Augustus, in A.D. 22, re-assigned it to the Senate (Dio. Cass. iv. p. 523). Coins of Cyprus are extant, bearing the date of Claudius, and the name of Cominius Proclus as proconsul (Akerman, Numismatic Illustrations, pp. 39-42), and as stated above (Note on Acts 13:4), one has recently been discovered in Cyprus itself, in which that title appears as borne by one of the name of Paulus. Under Hadrian, it appears to have been under a proprætor; under Severus, it was again under a proconsul. Of the proconsul himself we know nothing certain more than is recorded here. The name probably implied a connection with the old Æmilian gens, among whom, as in the case of the great conqueror of Macedonia, it was a favourite cognomen. Dr. Lightfoot has, however, pointed out that Pliny, writing circ. A.D. 90, names a Sergius Paulus as his chief authority for the facts in Books 2 and 18 of his Natural History, and that among these are two specially connected with Cyprus; and that Galen, writing circ. A.D. 150, speaks of one bearing the same name, also a proconsul, as a contemporary of his own, and as distinguished for his love of wisdom. Here, of course, identity is out of the question, but relationship is, at least, probable.

A prudent man.—The adjective describes what we should call general intelligence and discernment, as in Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21; 1 Corinthians 1:19. It was shown in this instance in his at once recognising the higher type of character presented by the Apostles, and desiring to know more of the “word” which they spake to him as a message from God.

Verse 8

(8) But Elymas the sorcerer.—See Note on Acts 13:6. The charlatan feared the loss of the influence which he had previously exercised over the mind of the proconsul. His victim was emancipating himself from his bondage and was passing from credulity to faith, and that progress Bar-jesus sought to check.

Verse 9

(9) Then Saul, (who also is called Paul).—It is impossible not to connect the mention, and probably the assumption, of the new name with the conversion of the proconsul. It presented many advantages. (1) It was sufficiently like his own name in sound to fall within the general practice which turned Jesus into Jason, Hillel into Pollio, Silas into Silvanus. (2) It was a Roman, not a Greek, name, and as such fell in with the ultimate work of the Apostle, already, it may be, contemplated in thought (comp. Romans 15:23), of bearing his witness to Christ in the imperial city. (3) It formed a link between him and the illustrious convert whom he had just made. He was, as it were, claiming a brotherhood with him. From this point of view, it is interesting to compare the name of Lucas or Lucanus, as borne both by the evangelist and the poet. (Comp. Introduction to St. Luke, Vol. I., p. 237.) Other reasons that have been assigned, as (1) that the Greek word Saulos had an opprobrious meaning, as = wanton, or (2) that the meaning of Paulus, as = little, commended itself to the Apostle’s humility, may be dismissed as more or less fantastic.

Filled with the Holy Ghost.—The tense of the Greek participle, implies a sudden access of spiritual power, showing itself at once in insight into character, righteous indignation, and prevision of the divine chastisement.

Set his eyes on him.—The word is that already so often noted, as in Acts 1:10, and elsewhere. As applied to St. Paul it may possibly connect itself with the defect of vision which remained as the after-consequence of the brightness seen on the way to Damascus. The Greek word, however, it is right to add, may just as well express the fixed gaze of men of strong powers of sight, as that of those who suffer from some infirmity. (See Acts 1:10; Acts 3:4; Luke 4:20; Luke 22:56.)

Verse 10

(10) Full of all subtilty and all mischief.—The Greek of the second noun is found here only in the New Testament. Its primary meaning expresses simply “ease in working;” but this passed through the several stages of “versatility,” “shiftiness,” and “trickery.” A kindred word is translated in Acts 18:14 as “lewdness.”

Thou child of the devil.—There is, perhaps, an intentional contrast between the meaning of the name Bar-jesus (= son of the Lord who saves) and the character of the man, which led him to oppose righteousness in every form, and to turn “the straight paths of God’s making” into the crooked ones of man’s subtlety. There is a manifest reference to the words in which Isaiah describes the true preparation of the way of the Lord as consisting in making the crooked straight (Isaiah 40:4).

Verse 11

(11) The hand of the Lord is upon thee.—The anthromorphic phrase would convey to every Jew the thought of a chastisement which was the direct result of the will of God. (Comp. 1 Kings 18:46; Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 8:1.)

Thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.—The form of the punishment may have been, in part, determined by the Apostle’s choice as manifested in prayer. If so, it suggests the thought that he had looked back on his own blindness, the exclusion of the outward light, as being that which had been to him the process by which he was led to the Sun of Righteousness and the Light that lighteth every man, and hoped that it might be so now. (See Note on Acts 9:8-9.) In any case, there was a moral fitness in blindness as the penalty of the sin the very essence of which was that the man was fighting against light. That the blindness was to be “for a season” only implies that it was designed to be remedial and not simply retributive.

There fell on him a mist and a darkness . . .—Here, as in the “scales” of Acts 9:13, we seem to trace something of the precision of the trained physician. The first effect of the loss of the power to see was, as in the case of St. Paul, that Elymas, who had selfishly used his knowledge to guide others to his own advantage, now had to seek for others to guide his own steps. The tense of the Greek verb (he was seeking) seems to imply that he sought and did not find. He had no friends to help him, and was left to his fate unpitied.

Verse 12

(12) Being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.—The genitive is, probably, that of the object, the teaching which had the Lord, i.e., the Lord Jesus, as its main theme.

Verse 13

(13) Paul and his company.—Literally, those about Paul. The new description is obviously chosen as indicating the new position which from this time the Apostle began to occupy as the leader of the mission.

Perga.—The city was at this time the capital of Pamphylia, situated on the river Cestrus, about seven miles from its mouth. The absence of any record of evangelising work there is probably due to the fact that there were no synagogues, and that the Apostles in this mission adhered to the plan of preaching in the first instance to the Jews, and making the synagogue, as it were, their base of operations.

John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.—We are left to conjecture the motives of this departure. He may have shrunk from the perils and hardships of the journey into the interior of the country. He may have been drawn by affection for his mother, who lived at Jerusalem. It is clear, in any case, from St. Paul’s subsequent conduct (Acts 15:38), that he looked on the reason as insufficient, while Barnabas saw, at least, enough to admit the plea of extenuating circumstances. The pressure of the famine at Jerusalem may have seemed to him to excuse the desire of the son to minister to the mother’s wants.

Verse 14

(14) They came to Antioch in Pisidia.—The town was one of the many cities built by Seleucus Nicator, and named after his father, Antiochus. It lay on the slopes of Mount Taurus, which the travelers must have crossed, had obtained the “Jus Italicum”—a modified form of Roman citizenship—under Augustus, and had attracted, as the sequel shows, a considerable Jewish population, who had made many proselytes among the Gentiles (Acts 13:42). It lay on the extreme limit of Pisidia, with Phrygia on the west and Lycaonia on the east.

Went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.—The act implied that they were not listeners only, but teachers. (See Notes on Matthew 5:1; Luke 4:20.) They sat as in the seat of the Rabbi, and their doing so was an indication, as the sequel shows, that they asked for permission to address the congregation. It will be remembered that the organisation of the synagogue excluded the sacerdotal element altogether, and that lay-preaching, assuming a sufficient training, was an established practice. It need hardly be said that neither elders nor scribes were necessarily of the tribe of Levi.

Verse 15

(15) After the reading of the law and the prophets.—The order of the Sabbath lessons was fixed as by a kind of calendar, the Law—i.e., the Pentateuch—being divided into fifty-three or fifty-four paraschioth, or sections. These, probably, came into use soon after the return from Babylon. To these were afterwards added special lessons, known technically as the Haphtaroth, from the prophets. We are enabled, by two curious coincidences, to fix, with very little uncertainty, the precise Sabbath on which the mission-work at Antioch opened. The opening words of St. Paul refer to Deuteronomy 1:31 (see Note on Acts 13:18) and this was the lesson for the forty-fourth Sabbath in the year, which fell in July or August; the corresponding second lesson from the prophets being Isaiah 1:1-27, from which he also quotes. He starts, as was natural, from what the people had just been listening to, as the text of his discourse.

The rulers of the synagogue sent unto them . . .—The elders apparently saw strangers taking the position of teachers, probably in the garb of Rabbis, and it belonged to their office to offer such persons an opportunity of addressing the people.

Verse 16

(16) Beckoning with his hand.—The gesture was rather that of one who waves his hand to command silence and attention than what we commonly describe as beckoning. (Comp. Acts 12:17.) The graphic touch of description would seem to indicate, as does the full report of the speech, that they came in the first instance from one who had been present. A like touch is found again in connection with St. Paul in Acts 21:40. It was, probably, like the “fixing of the eye,” in Acts 13:9, just one of the personal characteristics on which the painter-historian loved to dwell. We may assume, as almost certain, that throughout this journey St. Paul used Greek as the common medium of intercourse. The verbal coincidences in Acts 13:17-18, already referred to in the Note on Acts 13:15, make it, in this instance, absolutely certain.

Men of Israel, and ye that fear God.—The latter phrase denotes, as in Acts 10:2; Acts 10:22, those who, though in the synagogue, were of heathen origin, and had not become proselytes in the full sense of the term, but were known as the so-called “proselytes of the gate.”

Give audience.—Literally, hear ye. The English phrase may be noted as an example of the use of the word “audience,” which has since been applied to the persons who hear, in the old abstract sense of the act of hearing.

Verse 17

(17) The God of this people of Israel.—It will be observed that St. Paul, as far as the plan of his discourse is concerned, follows in the footsteps of St. Stephen, and begins by a recapitulation of the main facts of the history of Israel. It was a theme which Israelites were never tired of listening to. It showed that the Apostles recognised it as the history of God’s chosen people.

And exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers.—Literally, in their sojourning in the land of Egypt. The word for “exalt” is found in the Greek of Isaiah 1:2, where our version has, “I have nourished and brought up children,” and may fairly be considered as an echo from the lesson that had just been read. It may be noted that it was only in this sense, as increasing rapidly in population, that Israel could be spoken of as “exalted” in the house of bondage.

Verse 18

(18) Suffered he their manners.—The Greek word so rendered differs by a single letter only from one which signifies “to nurse, to carry, as a father carries his child.” Many of the better MSS. versions and early writers give the latter reading, and it obviously falls in far better with the conciliatory drift of St. Paul’s teaching than one which implied reproach. The word is found in the Greek of Deuteronomy 1:31 (“bare thee, as a man doth bear his son”), where also some MSS. give the other word, and suggests the inference, already mentioned, that this chapter, as well as Isaiah 1:0, had been read as one of the lessons for the day.

Verse 19

(19) He divided their land to them by lot.—Accepting this reading, the reference is to the command given in Numbers 26:55-56, and recorded as carried into effect in Joshua 14-19. The better MSS., however, give a kindred word, which signifies “he gave as an inheritance.”

Verse 20

(20) After that he gave unto them judges . . .—The statement in the text, assigning 450 years to the period of the judges, and apparently reckoning that period from the distribution of the conquered territory, is at variance with that in 1 Kings 6:1, which gives 480 years as the period intervening between the Exodus and the building of the temple. The better MSS., however, give a different reading—“He gave their land to them as an inheritance, about 450 years, and after these things he gave unto them judges,” the 450 years in this case being referred to the interval between the choice of “our fathers,” which may be reckoned from the birth of Isaac (B.C. 1897 according to the received chronology) to the distribution of the conquered country in B.C. 1444. So far as any great discrepancy is concerned, this is a sufficient explanation, but what has been said before as to the general tendency in a discourse of this kind to rest in round numbers, has also to be remembered. (See Note on Acts 7:6.) Josephus (Ant. viii. 3, § 1) gives 592 years from the Exodus to the building of Solomon’s Temple. Of this period sixty-five years were occupied by the wanderings in the wilderness and the conquest under Joshua, eighty-four by the reigns of Saul and David and the first four years of Solomon, leaving 443 years for the period of the Judges. This agrees, it will be seen, sufficiently with the Received text in this passage, but leaves the discrepancy with 1 Kings 6:1 unexplained. There would of course, be nothing strange in St. Paul’s following the same traditional chronology as Josephus, even where it differed from that of the present Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

Verse 21

(21) Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin.—It is natural to think of the Apostle as dwelling on the memory of the hero-king of the tribe to which he himself belonged. (Comp. Philippians 3:5.) The very fact that he had so recently renounced the name, would bring the associations connected with it more vividly to his recollection.

Forty years.—The duration of Saul’s reign is not given in the Old Testament, but Ish-bosheth, his youngest son (1 Chronicles 8:33), was forty years old at the time of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 2:10), and Saul himself was a “young man” when chosen as king (1 Samuel 9:2). A more definite corroboration of St. Paul’s statement is given by Josephus (Ant. vi. 14, § 9), who states that he reigned eighteen years before Samuel’s death and twenty-two after it.

Verse 22

(22) I have found David the son of Jesse.—The words that follow are a composite quotation, after the manner of the Rabbis, made up of Psalms 89:20, and 1 Samuel 13:14. The obvious purpose of this opening was, as in the case of St. Stephen’s speech, to gain attention by showing that the speaker recognised all the traditional glories of the people. It is possible that we have, as it were, but the précis of a fuller statement.

Verse 23

(23) Raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus.—It is, of course, probable that the names of Jesus and of John were not utterly unknown, even in those remote regions of Pisidia. No Jew could have gone up to keep a feast at Jerusalem for some years past without having heard something of the one or of the other. St. Paul’s tone is clearly that of one who assumes that their story is already vaguely known, and who comes to offer knowledge of greater clearness.

Verse 24

(24) The baptism of repentance.—See Notes on Matthew 3:1-12.

Verse 25

(25) And as John fulfilled his course.—Better was fulfilling, the tense implying continuous action.

Whom think ye that I am?—The precise question is not found in the Gospel records of St. John’s ministry, but the substance of the answer is implied in Matthew 3:11; John 1:20-21.

Verse 26

(26) Children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God.—The two classes are, as before (see Note on Acts 13:16), again pointedly contrasted with each other.

To you is the word of this salvation sent.—The demonstrative pronoun implies that the salvation which St. Paul proclaimed rested on the work of Jesus the Saviour (Acts 13:23), and was found in union with Him. (Comp. “this life” in Acts 5:20.)

Verse 27

(27) For they that dwell at Jerusalem.—The implied reason of the mission to the Gentiles and more distant Jews is that the offer of salvation had been rejected by those who would naturally have been its first recipients, and who, had they received it, would have been, in their turn, witnesses to those that were “far off,” in both the local and spiritual sense of those words.

The voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day.—See Note on Acts 13:15. The Apostle appeals to the synagogue ritual from which the discourse started, as in itself bearing witness, not to the popular notions of a conquering Messiah, but to the true ideal of the chief of sufferers, which had been realised in Jesus.

Verse 28

(28) And though they found no cause of death in him.—Technically, the Sanhedrin had condemned our Lord on the charge of blasphemy (Matthew 26:66), but they had been unable to prove the charge by any adequate evidence (Matthew 26:60), and finally condemned him by extorting words from His own lips. When they came before Pilate they shrank at first from urging that accusation, and contented themselves with stating in general terms that they had condemned Him as a malefactor (John 18:30); though afterwards, as if seeking to terrify the wavering governor, they added that by their law He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God (John 19:7), and that by making Himself a king He spake against the emperor (John 19:12).

Verse 29

(29) When they had fulfilled all that was written of him.—The words are suggestive of much that lies below the surface. St. Paul, also, had studied in the same school of prophetic interpretation as the writers of the Gospels, and saw as they did, in all the details of the Crucifixion, the fulfilment of that which had been written beforehand, it might be, of other sufferers, but which was to find its highest fulfilment in the Christ.

They took him down from the tree.—In the brief summary which St. Paul gives, it was apparently deemed unnecessary to state the fact that our Lord was taken down from the cross and laid in the sepulchre by those who were secretly disciples, like Joseph and Nicodemus. It was enough that they too were among the rulers of the Jews, and that they, in what they did, were acting without any expectation of the Resurrection. On the use of the word “tree” for the cross, see Note on Acts 5:30.

Verse 31

(31) And he was seen many days.—The language is that of one who had conversed with the witnesses, and had convinced himself of the truth of their testimony. We find what the Apostle had in his thoughts in a more expanded form in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

Who are his witnesses.—More accurately, who are now his witnesses.

Unto the people.—The word is used in its distinctive sense as applied to those who were the people of God. (Comp. Acts 26:17; Acts 26:23.)

Verse 33

(33) God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children.—The better MSS. give, with hardly an exception, unto our children, and the Received text must be regarded as having been made to obtain what seemed a more natural meaning. St. Paul’s language, however, is but an echo of St. Peter’s “to us and to our children,” in Acts 2:39.

As it is also written in the second psalm.—The various-reading, “in the first Psalm,” given by some MSS. is interesting, as showing that in some copies of the Old Testament, what is now the first Psalm was treated as a kind of prelude to the whole book, the numeration beginning with what is now the second.

Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.—Historically, Psalms 2:0 appears as a triumph-song, written to celebrate the victory of a king of Israel or Judah—David, or Solomon, or another—over his enemies. The king had been shown by that day of victory to have been the chosen son of God—the day itself was a new begetting, manifesting the sonship. So, in the higher fulfilment which St. Paul finds in Christ, he refers the words, not primarily to the Eternal Generation of the Son of God, “begotten before all worlds,” nor to the Incarnation, but to the day of victory over rulers and priests, over principalities and powers, over death and Hades. The Resurrection manifested in the antitype, as the victory had done in the type, a pre-existing sonship; but it was to those who witnessed it, or heard of it, as the ground on which their faith in that sonship rested. Christ was to them the “firstborn of every creature,” because He was also “the firstborn from the dead.” (See Notes on Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18.)

Verse 34

(34) Now no more to return to corruption.—We note from the turn of the phrase that St. Paul already has the words of Psalms 16:10 in his mind, though he has not as yet referred to it.

I will give you the sure mercies of David.—The words do not seem in themselves to have the nature of a Messianic prediction. To those, however, whose minds were full to overflowing with the writings of the prophets they would be pregnant with meaning. What were the “sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 55:3) but the “everlasting covenant” of mercy which was to find its fulfilment in One who should be “a leader and commander to the people?” We may well believe that the few words quoted recalled to St. Paul and to his hearers the whole of that wonderful chapter which opens with “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” The Greek word for “mercies” is the same adjective as that translated “holy” in the next verse, “holiness” being identified with “mercy,” and so forms a connecting link with the prophecy cited in the next verse.

Verse 35

(35) Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.—See Notes on the prophecy so cited in Acts 2:25-31.

Verse 36

(36) After he had served his own generation.—Literally, ministered to his own generation. There is, perhaps, a suggested contrast between the limits within which the work of service to mankind done by any mere man, however great and powerful, is necessarily confined, and the wide, far-reaching, endless ministry to the whole human family which belongs to the Son of Man.

By the will of God.—The words are, perhaps, better connected with the verb that follows. It was by the will (literally, counsel) of God that David fell asleep when his life’s work was accomplished.

Fell on sleep.—It is not without interest to not that St. Paul uses the same word for death as had been used by the historian in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:36). It agreed with the then current language of mankind that death was as a sleep. It differed from it in thinking of that sleep not as “eternal” (the frequently recurring epithet in Greek and Roman epitaphs), but as the prelude to an awakening.

Verse 38

(38) Men and brethren.—Better, brethren, simply.

Is preached . . .—The force of the Greek tense emphasises the fact that the forgiveness was, at that very moment, in the act of being proclaimed or preached.

Forgiveness of sins.—This forms the key-note of St. Paul’s preaching (here and in Acts 26:18), as it had done of St. Peter’s (Acts 2:38; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43), as it had done before of that of the Baptist (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), and of our Lord Himself (Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:6; Luke 7:47; Luke 24:47). It was the ever-recurring burden of the glad tidings which were preached alike by all.

Verse 39

(39) And by him.—Literally, in Him, as the sphere in which forgiveness was found, rather than as the instrument through whom it came.

All that believe are justified.—Literally, with a more individualising touch, every one that believeth is justified. The latter verb is not found elsewhere in the Acts. It is interesting to note in this, the first recorded example of St. Paul’s teaching, the occurrence of the word which, as time passed on, came to be almost identified with him and with his work. It is clearly used, as interpreted by the “forgiveness of sins” in the context, in its forensic sense, as meaning “acquitted,” “declared not guilty.” (Comp. Note on Matthew 12:37.)

From which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.—The words are full of meaning, as the germ of all that was most characteristic in St. Paul’s later teaching. The Law, with its high standard of righteousness (Romans 7:12), its demand of entire obedience, its sacrifices which bore witness to the burden of sin, yet had no power to liberate conscience from its thraldom (Hebrews 8:1-3), had taught him that its function in the spiritual life of man was to work out the knowledge of sin (Romans 7:7), not to emancipate men from it. The sense of freedom from guilt, and therefore of a true life, was to be found, as he had learnt by his own experience, through faith in Christ. “The just by faith shall live” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).

Verse 40

(40) Which is spoken of in the prophets.—This formula of citation seems to have been common, as in Acts 7:42, in the case of quotations from the Minor Prophets, which were regarded, as it were, as a single volume with this title.

Verse 41

(41) Behold, ye despisers.—The quotation is from the LXX. version, the Hebrew giving “Behold, ye among the heathen.” So, in the next clause, “wonder, and perish” takes the place of “wonder marvellously.” The fact that St. Paul quotes from the prophet (Habakkuk 1:5) whose teaching (Habakkuk 2:4) that “the just by faith shall live” becomes henceforth the axiom of his life, is not without a special interest. The “work” of which the prophet spoke was defined in the following verse as the raising up the Chaldeans, “that bitter and hasty nation,” to execute God’s judgment. St. Paul may have had in his thoughts the like judgment about to be executed by the Romans, and already known as foretold by Christ (Matthew 24:2-28), or may have thus dimly indicated that which was so closely connected with it—the rejection of Israel, because they, as a nation, had rejected Christ. The sharp tone of warning, as in St. Stephen’s speech (see Note on Acts 7:51), suggests the thought that signs of anger and impatience had already begun to show themselves.

Verse 42

(42) And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue.—The better MSS. give simply, as they were going out, the Received text being apparently an explanatory interpretation. The reading, “the Gentiles besought,” is an addition of the same character, the better MSS. giving simply, they besought, or were beseeching. What follows shows, indeed, that some at least of the Jews were led to inquire further. The participle implies that they stopped as they passed out, to request the Apostle to resume his teaching on the following Sabbath. This, and not the marginal reading “in the week between,” is the true meaning of the words, though they admit, literally, of the other rendering.

Verse 43

(43) When the congregation was broken up.—Better, as keeping to the usual rendering, the synagogue. The two preachers withdrew to their inn or lodging, and were followed by many of both classes of their hearers—not, as the Received text of Acts 13:42 implies, by one only. It is probable, looking to St. Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 9:6—which can only refer to their joint life at the Syrian Antioch, or on this journey,—that during the week that followed they worked for their maintenance as tent-makers. (See Note on Acts 18:3.) Manufactures of this kind were so common in all the towns lying on or near the Taurus range of mountains, that it would not be difficult for any skilled workman, such as St. Paul, to obtain casual employment.

Persuaded them.—The tense implies that they went on throughout the week—probably after their day’s labour was over—with this work of persuasion.

Verse 44

(44) The next sabbath day came almost the whole city together.—It is clear that the Jewish synagogue could not have held such a crowd, and we are led accordingly to the conclusion either that they thronged round portals and windows while the Apostles spoke within, or that the crowd gathered in some open space or piazza in which the synagogue was situated, and were addressed from its entrance. We are left to infer the nature of St. Paul’s discourse from what had preceded, and to assume that it was not recorded, either because St. Luke had notes of one discourse and not of the other, or because it went more or less over the same ground, and therefore did not seem to him to require recording.

Verse 45

(45) They were filled with envy.—They heard the Apostles speaking to the multitudes, not in the condescending, supercilious tone of those who could just tolerate a wealthy proselyte of the gate, that could purchase their favour, but as finding in every one of them a brother standing on the same level as themselves, as redeemed by Christ, and this practical repudiation of all the exclusive privileges on which they prided themselves was more than they could bear.

Contradicting and blaspheming.—The latter word implies reviling words with which the Apostles were assailed, as well as blasphemy in the common meaning of the word.

Verse 46

(46) It was necessary.—The preachers recognised the necessity of following what they looked on as the divine plan in the education of mankind, and so they preached “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Romans 2:9-10). The former were offered, as the fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham, the high privilege of being the channel through which “all families of the earth should be blessed” by the knowledge of Christ (Genesis 22:18). When they rejected that offer, it was made, without their intervention, to the Gentiles.

Judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life.—There is a touch of righteous indignation, perhaps something like irony, in the words. The preacher had thought them “worthy” of the highest of all blessings, the life eternal which was in Christ Jesus, but they, in their boastful and envious pride, took what was really a lower estimate of themselves, and showed that they were “unworthy.” They passed sentence, ipso facto, on themselves.

Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.—We have to remember (1) that the words were as an echo of those which the Apostle had heard in his trance in the Temple at Jerusalem (Acts 22:21); (2) that they would be heard, on the one hand, by the Gentiles with a joy hitherto unknown, and, on the other, by the Jews as a new cause of irritation.

Verse 47

(47) I have set thee to be a light to the Gentiles.—The context of the quotation has to be remembered as showing that St. Paul identified the “Servant of the Lord” in Isaiah 49:6 with the person of the Christ. (See Note on Acts 4:27.) The citation. is interesting as the first example of the train of thought which led the Apostle to see in the language of the prophets, where others had found only the exaltation of Israel, the divine purpose of love towards the whole heathen world. It is the germ of the argument afterwards more fully developed in Romans 9:25; Romans 10:12.

Verse 48

(48) They were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord.—Both verbs are in the tense of continued action. The joy was not an evanescent burst of emotion. The “word of the Lord” here is the teaching which had the Lord Jesus as its subject.

As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.—Better, as many as were disposed for. The words seem to the English reader to support the Calvinistic dogma of divine decrees as determining the belief or unbelief of men, and it is not improbable, looking to the general drift of the theology of the English Church in the early part of the seventeenth century, that the word “ordained” was chosen as expressing that dogma. It runs, with hardly any variation, through all the chief English versions, the Rhemish giving the stronger form “pre-ordinate.” The Greek word, however, does not imply more than that they fell in with the divine order which the Jews rejected. They were as soldiers who take the place assigned to them in God’s great army. The quasi-middle force of the passive form of the verb is seen in the Greek of Acts 20:13, where a compound form of it is rightly rendered “for so he had appointed,” and might have been translated for so he was disposed. It lies in the nature of the case that belief was followed by a public profession of faith, but the word “believed” does not, as some have said, involve such a profession.

Verse 49

(49) Throughout all the region.—This clearly involves a considerable period of active working. It was not in Antioch only, but in the “region” round about, the border district of the three provinces of Phrygia, Lycaonia, and Galatia, that the new faith was planted. Each town and village in that region presented the spectacle of at least some few men and women who no longer sacrificed to their country’s gods, who were no longer content even to worship in the synagogue of the relligio licita of the Jews, but met in small companies here and there, as the disciples of a new Master.

Verse 50

(50) The Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women.—The fact stated brings before us another feature of the relations between Jews and Gentiles at this period. They “compassed sea and land to make one proselyte” (Matthew 23:15). They found it easier to make proselytes of women. Such conversions had their good and their bad sides. In many cases there was a real longing for a higher and purer life than was found in the infinite debasement of Greek and Roman society, which found its satisfaction in the life and faith of Israel. (See Notes on Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12.) But with many, such as Juvenal speaks of when he describes (Sat. vi. 542) the Jewish teacher who gains influence over women—

“Arcanam Judæa tremens mendicat in aurem

Interpres legum Solymarum”—

[“The trembling Jewess whispers in her ear,

And tells her of the laws of Solymse,”][3][3] Solymæ, of course, stands for Jerusalem.

the change brought with it new elements of superstition and weakness, and absolute submission of conscience to its new directors, and thus the Rabbis were often to the wealthier women of Greek and Roman cities what Jesuit confessors were in France and Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here we get the darker side of the picture. The Jews stir up the women of the upper class, and they stir up their husbands. The latter were content apparently to acquiesce in their wives accepting the Judaism with which they had become familiar, but resented the intrusion of a new and, in one sense, more exacting doctrine.

Raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas.—It lies in the nature of the case that they were not the only sufferers. From the first the Christians of Antioch in Pisidia had to learn the lesson that they must “through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The memory of these sufferings came back upon St. Paul’s mind, even in the last months of his life, as something never to be forgotten (2 Timothy 3:11).

Verse 51

(51) They shook off the dust of their feet against them.—The act was one of literal obedience to our Lord’s commands (see Note on Matthew 10:14), and may fairly be regarded as evidence that that command had come to the knowledge of Paul and Barnabas as well as of the Twelve. It was in itself, however, the language of a natural symbolism which every Jew would understand, a declaration that not the heathen, but the unbelieving and malignant Jews, were those who made the very dust on which they trod common and unclean.

And came unto Iconium.—The journey to Iconium is passed over rapidly, and we may infer that it presented no opportunities for mission work. That city lay on the road between Antioch and Derbe at a distance of ninety miles south-east from the former city, and forty north-west from the latter. When the travellers arrived there they found what they probably had not met with on their route—a synagogue, which indicated the presence of a Jewish population, on whom they could begin to work. The city, which from its size and stateliness has been called the Damascus of Lycaonia, was famous in the early Apocryphal Christian writings as the scene of the intercourse between St. Paul and his convert Thekla. In the middle ages it rose to importance as the capital of the Seljukian sultans, and, under the slightly altered name of Konieh, is still a flourishing city. By some ancient writers it was assigned to Phrygia, by others to Lycaonia.

Verse 52

(52) And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost.—The tense is again that which expresses the continuance of the state. The “joy” expresses what is almost the normal sequence of conversion in the history of the Acts. (See Notes on Acts 8:8; Acts 8:39.) The addition of “the Holy Ghost” may imply special gifts like those of tongues and prophecy, but certainly involves a new intensity of spiritual life, of which joy was the natural outcome. As being conspicuous among the Gentile converts, we trace the impression which it then made, in words which St. Paul wrote long years afterwards, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Acts 13". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/acts-13.html. 1905.
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