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Bible Commentaries
Acts 5

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1. The Story of Ananias and Sapphira; or, Hypocrisy unveiled (Acts 5:1-11).


2. A Page from the Church’s Life History; or, the Calm before a Storm (Acts 5:12-16).


3. Annas on the Move; or, the Bursting of the Storm (Acts 5:17-32).


4. Gamaliel and his Colleagues; or, a Friend at Court (Acts 5:33-42).

Verses 1-11


Acts 5:1. Ananias.—Perhaps the same name as Ananiah (Nehemiah 3:23) or Hananiah (1 Chronicles 3:21; Jeremiah 28:1; Daniel 1:6), translated in the LXX. Ἀνανίας, and signifying the cloud or mercy of God. Sapphira.—Possibly from the Greek σάπφειρος, sapphire, or from the Syriac שׁפּירא, beautiful.

Acts 5:2. Kept back part of the price.—Lit. took away for himself from the price, as Achan did of the accursed thing (Joshua 7:1); compare Titus 2:10. Privy to it.—Conscious of it to herself—i.e., aware of the reservation.

Acts 5:3. Why hath Satan filled thine heart?—Compare the influence exerted by this father of lies (John 8:44) upon Judas (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). To lie to the Holy Ghost.—Lit. that thou shouldst lie, as regards the Holy Ghost—i.e., with intent to deceive Him, ψεύδεσθαι, with the accusative of the person deceived, as in Deuteronomy 33:29; Isaiah 57:11 (LXX.). Though the purpose was rather that of Satan who had filled Ananias’s heart, than of Ananias himself, yet Ananias’s freedom of will and power of resistance to the tempter is recognised in the question “Why?”

Acts 5:4. Was iti.e., the possession—not thine own? should be, remaining (unsold) did it not remain to thee (as thy possession)? The language shows that the practice of selling private property and casting the proceeds into a common fund was not obligatory on the first Christians as a term of communion. Why?—τί ὅτι = τί ἐστιν ὅτι = quid est quod = cur? Hast thou conceived.—Lit. placed in thy heart; compare Daniel 1:8; Malachi 2:2. “Satan suggested the lie, which Ananias ought to have repelled; instead of that he put it in his heart” (Alford). Not unto men, but unto God.—(Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:8.) A weighty testimony to the divinity, as well as personality of the Holy Spirit (compare Matthew 28:19).

Acts 5:5. Gave up the ghost.—Expired, breathed out his life; used again only of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:23). The phrase occurs frequently in the LXX. Great fear came on all them that hoard these things.—Not merely upon all present (De Wette), but upon all to whom the report came.

Acts 5:6. The young, or younger men, were the more youthful members of the assembly (Neander, De Wette, Alford, Hackett, Zöckler, and others) in distinction from the older. There is no need to suppose them a special class of assistants (Kuinoel, Meyer), or that presbyters had already been appointed (Olshausen), although on the ground of this natural distribution of work between the young and old in the common life of the Church, the later official distinction may have arisen (Holtzmann). Wound him up.—συνέστειλαν. I.e., taking συστέλλω to be = περιστέλλω (Ezekiel 29:5, LXX.; Jos., Ant., XVII. iii. 3), wrapping the body up—e.g., in their own mantles (Alford, De Wette); or, perhapes better, adhering to the literal sense of the word, to place together, laying the body out, composing its limbs (Zöckler, Holtzmann), and so making ready for burial. “The speedy burial of the dead practised among the later Jews was unknown in earlier times. See Genesis 23:0. It was grounded on Numbers 19:11 ff. The practice was to bury before sunset of the same day” (Alford).

Acts 5:7. Three hours after allowed sufficient time for interment.

Acts 5:8. So much.—Perhaps pointing to the gold still lying where it had been laid by Ananias.

Acts 5:9. To tempt the Spirit of the Lord.—Compare 1 Corinthians 10:9. Behold draws attention to the sound of approaching footsteps (Olshausen, Hackett, Holtzmann) although the whole clause may be only a lively or poetic manner of speech (Alford, Zöckler).

Acts 5:10. Fell down straightway.—That the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira were designed by the writer as supernatural occurrences cannot be doubted; and that they were so is shown by the impossibility of accounting for them by natural means, such as horror at detection and fear superinduced by Peter’s words. The idea that the story of Ananias and Sapphira, though having a basis in fact, is only a legend, corresponding to the Old Testament narratives of Achan (Joshua 7:0) and Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-8), and framed for the purpose of supporting the notion that he who is excommunicated must perish bodily (Weizsäcker) may be dismissed as without plausibility.

Acts 5:11. The Church, ἐκκλησία. Here used for the first time in the Acts to signify the body of believers who had been called out of the world.


The Story of Ananias and Sapphira; or, Hypocrisy unveiled

I. The character and standing of Ananias and Sapphira.—

1. Husband and wife. They stood towards one another in the holiest of natural relations. “Marriage is honourable in all” (Hebrews 13:4). Happy they in whom the sacred bond of wedlock is cemented by love and religion (Ephesians 5:25). Had Ananias and Sapphira been like their names, “finer names than Barnabas” (Stier)—he a vessel of the grace of God, and she clear and transparent like the sapphire (see “Critical Remarks”)—all had been well. But, alas! “their souls were not like their names” (Stier), and in them the marriage union, having been perverted to unholy ends, what was meant for a blessing turned out to be a curse. Instead of being helpers of each other’s faith and joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), and provoking one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), they became mutual tempters and confederates in sin. Adam and Eve, if they were the first married couple who conjointly went astray (Genesis 3:0), have, unhappily, not been the last: witness Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 12:16); Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 16:29-33); Herod and Herodias (Matthew 14:3).

2. Of good social standing. This was obvious from the circumstance that they possessed a bit of land. Ownership of the soil—whether right or wrong—has always been esteemed a mark of superior position (see Job 22:8-9). The landless have ever been accounted mean, and not unfrequently treated as slaves and chattels. Nor have such ideas been confined to men of the world, but they have been suffered to penetrate even within the precincts of the Christian Church. 2. Of fair Christian profession. “Without doubt,” says Besser, “the Holy Spirit had had His work upon them both. They were both believers, and embraced in the precious word spoken of the multitude of the faithful (Acts 4:32). Probably they had made themselves prominent above others through their beautiful gifts (of grace), had prayed with power, and been able boldly to despise the threatenings of the enemy.” Whether this was so or not, unquestionably they belonged to the number of disciples. Having publicly professed their faith in Christ, they had been baptised and received into the Christian community. Whether their so-called conversion dated from the day of Pentecost, or the healing of the lame man, cannot be ascertained. But manifestly they were persons of repute in the congregation. “They had a name to live” (Revelation 3:1), whether it was deserved or not.

II. The project and sin of Ananias and Sapphira.—

1. Their project.

(1) Its substance was good—to sell their property, retain part of the purchase money, bring the remainder into the Church, and lay it down at the apostles’ feet exactly as Joses had done. If they had a wish to emulate the man of Cyprus, there would still have been nothing reprehensible in what they proposed to do had they only let the truth be understood that they were contributing not the whole but only a part of their estate.
(2) Its motive was bad—to obtain credit for doing a handsome, generous, self-sacrificing deed of kindness without inflicting on themselves a total loss, to secure for themselves praise to which they were not entitled—viz., for giving all, whereas they were only giving part of their patrimony. In other words, vanity and greed lay at the root of their procedure.
(3) Its execution was clever—the scheme was carried out promptly, soon after it had been conceived, so that no space was left for hesitation which might lead to an alteration in their plans; faithfully, in exact accordance with the prearranged programme, so that little chance was left for miscarrying; conjointly, with the full concurrence of both partners, so that neither could cast the blame of failure upon the other; and publicly, with the knowledge and approbation of the Church, so that all might appear open and above board.
2. Their sin.

(1) In what it consisted. Not in selling the land or in contributing only a portion of the price to the common fund. They need not have sold the land unless they pleased. Nor were they obliged to surrender the whole or any portion of the realised price, if they chose to do otherwise. “There was no law imposing payment and specifying amount” (Binney). All was voluntary. Their transgression lay in pretending to contribute the whole when they were only devoting a part. Deception and hypocrisy were the faults with which they were chargeable.
(2) By whom it was instigated. The nearer motives have been explained. The power behind these was the Devil. Satan had filled their hearts with the desire of gaining reputation as generous and self-sacrificing givers without parting with too much of their property. To the promptings of the arch deceiver they had yielded. Having opened the gateways of their souls at his suggestion, they had soon sunk beneath his sway.

(3) Against whom it was directed. It was a sin against their own souls, against the apostles, against the Church, and even against Christ; but it was chiefly a sin against God and the Holy Ghost. This, according to Peter, formed its main aggravation. Yet it must not be confounded with what is specifically called the sin against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:32).

III. The detection and punishment of Ananias and Sapphira.—

1. The detection.—This was

(1) unexpected. By Ananias and Sapphira themselves, who, no doubt, never dreamt that any one, and least of all Peter, would get to know of their little plot; but hardly less by the congregation who, it may be imagined, never anticipated that any of their number would be guilty of such a miserable crime. The unexpected, however, is that which mostly happens; nor can evil doers count on a moment of security.
(2) Instantaneous. No preliminary suspicions, or strange surmises, or precognoscing of witnesses, or leading of evidence, was required. At once and on the spot, with the suddenness of a flash of lightning, the secret offence was laid bare. Ananias and Sapphira were hypocrites, and had lied unto the Holy Ghost.
(3) Complete. The whole story was divulged,—the selling of the land, the keeping back part of the price, the concert between the two. Nothing remained concealed from the searching gaze of Peter, whose eyes had been inwardly illumined by the Holy Ghost.

(4) Public. The sin had been conceived in secret, but its exposure occurred in public, according to the saying of our Lord: “There is nothing hid which shall not be manifested,” etc. (Mark 4:22).

2. The punishment.

(1) Sudden. Swift upon the heels of dection followed the infliction of retribution, as it did with our first parents (Genesis 3:8), with Cain (Genesis 4:9-12), with Judas, John 1:18), with Herod (Acts 12:23), and as it often does in Providence still.

(2) Severe. “Ananias, hearing Peter’s words, fell down and gave up the ghost” and three hours after, “Sapphira,” entering the congregation, and learning what had happened to her husband, also “fell down immediately at Peter’s feet.” One after the other their bodies were composed for interment, wrapped up in linen, or perhaps in the young men’s mantles, carried forth, and buried. Whether their souls perished with the dissolution of their bodies cannot be told. Charity would incline one to the belief of Augustine that this terrible doom was inflicted on their bodies that their spirits might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5).

(3) Supernatural. The suggestion that Ananias and Sapphira died through shame and the detection of their crime, and fear of the consequences that might ensue to them on its getting known to the community, will not explain the double death in manner and circumstances so exactly alike. Besides, Peter’s language (Acts 5:9) shows that both of the deaths were miraculous. To dismiss the whole story as a legendary working up of some simple occurrence connected with Ananias and Sapphira is inadmissible.

(4) Solemnising. It profoundly impressed the whole Church and the outside public, so far as it became known. And no wonder. “When God’s judgments are abroad the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

(5) Sanctioned. By right and justice. Though severe, it was not more severe than the sin deserved (Romans 6:23), or the circumstances of the case demanded. It was needful to check hypocrisy on the threshold of the Church; and if the rigour of Divine vengeance has since then been relaxed, that is not because the sin of hypocrisy has become less hateful in God’s sight (Job 13:13; Job 13:16; Luke 11:44), but because “mercy” has began to “rejoice against judgment” (James 2:13).


1. That two actions may be similar in men’s eyes, and yet intrinsically different in God’s. Example: the actions of Barnabas and Ananias.
2. That God will accept no gift for either His Church or His poor of that which hypocrisy and greed leave over. God’s proper portion is the firstfruits.
3. That God still sits over against the treasury of the Church and jealously guards His honour from all reproach that may be cast upon it by His people’s gifts.
4. That no plot can be too secret to escape the all-seeing eye of God.
5. That, though hand join in hand, yet will not the sinner go unpunished.
6. That “not a great and mixed multitude, but the holiness of His people, is pleasing to the Lord of His Church” (Lechler).
7. That Christ’s people should guard themselves carefully against temptations to sin.


Acts 5:1. Ananias and Sapphira; or, the Fearful Perversion of the Marriage State.—This occurs when marriage is—

I. A fellowship of goods and a business transaction, instead of a union of hearts in the Lord.

II. A union to the service of the flesh, the world, and the devil, instead of a pious resolution, “As for me and my house.”

III. A walking together to hell, instead of being helpers together of one another’s joy, and pilgrims towards heaven. Contrast Ananias and Sapphira with Zacharias and Elizabeth.—Gerok.

Acts 5:1, with Acts 4:3-6. Barnabas and Ananias.

I. Compare.—In being—

1. Men;
2. Professors of Christianity;
3. Givers.

II. Contrast.—In their—

1. Characters. Barnabas, a good man and sincere Christian; Ananias, an insincere disciple and flagrant deceiver.

2. Gifts. That of Barnabas proceeding from Christian love and sympathy, and being complete as well as honest; that of Ananias being inspired by envy and selfishness as well as impaired in its extent, and deceitful in its mode of presentation.

3. Rewards. Barnabas being set upon a pedestal of immortal renown; Ananias being fixed on a pillory of undying shame. Barnabas being promoted to a position of usefulness in the Church; Ananias being punished with instantaneous destruction, and so held up as a warning to future ages.

III. Suggest.—

1. That all who profess faith in Jesus Christ are not sincere disciples.
2. That all gifts to Christ’s treasury are not equally acceptable to Christ.
3. That different destinies await the true and the false professor of religion.

Acts 5:3. Man’s Partnership with Satan in his Sins.

I. In connection with lies.—He is a liar, and the forger of lies; the hater of truth and uprightness.

II. In connection with errors.
III. In connection with forms.
IV. In connection with unbelief.
V. In connection with his own original falsehood in Paradise
.—H. Bonar, D.D.

Acts 5:3-10. Satan and the Holy Ghost.

VII. Satan.—

1. The existence and personality of Satan. Peter did not speak in allegory when he said, “Why hath Satan filled thy heart?”

2. The reality of Satanic influence on the human heart. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was traced back to the direct agency of the devil.

3. Satanic influence, though undeniable, does not destroy the responsibility of man. Satan can fill no man’s heart against his will.

II. The Holy Ghost.—

1. The divinity and personality of the Holy Ghost. The former implied in the fact that the Holy Ghost could be lied against and tempted; the latter in the title God ascribed to Him (Acts 5:4).

2. The access the Holy Spirit has to the human heart. Proved by the inward illumination of Peter as to the conduct of the guilty pair.

3. The perpetual inhabitation of the Church by the Holy Ghost. Ananias and Sapphira imagined they had only their fellow-Christians to hoodwink. Peter explained the aggravation of their sin to lie in this, that it had been committed against the Holy Ghost.

Acts 5:5-10 Sudden Deaths.

I. Possible occurrences.—And may be either natural events or supernatural judgments.

II. Impressive spectacles.—Calculated to arrest the careless and render the wicked thoughtful.

III. Solemn lessons.—Teaching all

(1) the nearness of the end, and
(2) the wisdom of being ready.

Acts 5:5-11. Church Discipline.

I. Its necessity.—Shown then by the case of Ananias and Sapphira; shown now by the admitted presence in the Church of those who “walk disorderly.”

II. Its authority.—The example of Peter, supported by the teaching of Christ (Matthew 18:15-18), Paul (1 Corinthians 5:2-7; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; Titus 3:10), and John (2 John 1:10).

III. Its effect.—When faithfully and lovingly administered mostly good; if not to the offending party salutary, to the Church and the world mostly impressive and instructive.

Acts 5:1-11. The Sevenfold Union of Ananias and Sapphira.

I. United in marriage.—Husband and wife.

II. United in profession.—Both members of the Church.

III. United in liberality.—Both agreed to give a contribution to the Church fund.

IV. United in sin.—Their plot was devised and acted on in concert with each other.

V. United in detection.—Both were found out at the same time and by the same apostle.

VI. United in punishment.—Both were visited with death.

V. United in infamy.—Both serve as a memorial and warning to future ages.

The Love of Money, as exemplified in Ananias and Sapphira.

I. It impaired their Christian characters.—Assuming them to have been genuine disciples, it certainly prevented them from rising to any height in the religious life, if it did not utterly extinguish grace within their hearts. Alongside of the love of Mammon the love of God cannot thrive (Matthew 6:24).

II. It maintained its hold upon them, notwithstanding their privileges.—They had probably witnessed the wonders of Pentecost, beheld the healing of the lame man, listened to Peter’s sermons, enjoyed the fellowship of the disciples, perhaps themselves led the prayers of the congregation; and yet this deeply seated vice, the passion for money, kept its ground.

III. It impelled them to a course of heinous sin.—To avarice, to deception, to hypocrisy, to vainglory, to lies, to pretence and ostentation—a pitiable crop of evil to come to harvest in Christian souls. “The love of money is the root of every kind of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

IV. It involved them in an awful doom.—Detection, exposure, death, infamy. “They that will be rich,” etc. (1 Timothy 6:9). For other examples of the love of money see Simon Magus (Acts 8:18-23), the Sorcerers (Acts 16:19), Demetrius (Acts 19:24-27), Felix Acts 24:26).

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira.

I. The character of the sin.—It was not simple falsehood. The common practice of holding it up before children, as an illustration of the guilt and danger of lying, has no warrant to justify it. Their sin was the attempt to deceive and defraud God. Many a man since has ventured upon the same experiment. In every community there are some who are so convinced of the worth of religion that they desire to share in its blessings. They outwardly embrace the Christian faith; they unite with the Church; they are measurably careful in the discharge of routine duties. Neither their conduct nor their neglect is such as to subject them to discipline; and yet, while conceding so much, they are far from having made a complete surrender of themselves to God. Their religious life is a perpetual attempt at con-promise. The bulk of their time and energy is devoted to self and the world; the dust and sweepings are offered to God. Ananias in broadcloth and Sapphira in silk sit in the churches every Sabbath. They call themselves disciples, and pride themselves on their consistency; but both the name they assume and the boast they make is a lie to the Holy Ghost. They keep back a part, and the greater part, of the price of discipleship.

II. The origin of the sin.—In general phrase, we may say that it was due to an evil heart, but its specific root was the love of money. In our day, when men are called to choose between piety and property, there are many who hesitate, prevaricate, and end with a compromise. Multitudes of avowed believers withhold as much as possible of their wealth from God. They are prodigal in their prayers and hymns and exhortations, but close-handed with their money. Like the tree in the ancient legend, which uttered a moan and bled whenever a twig was broken off, those who call themselves Christian men writhe and suffer when forced to anything like a liberal surrender of their worldly substance for the glory of God and the salvation of men. The old poison of avarice is still in the veins of the Church.

III. The discovery of the sin.—It seemed unlikely that the transaction would be made public. Ananias and Sapphira would not circulate the story of what they had done. There was apparently no way in which the affair could become known. So, doubtless, these deceivers reasoned. But there was an uncalculated factor in the equation. There was a spiritual side to the matter which was unreckoned. It affected the kingdom of God as well as the real estate market. It is a truth which men are slow to learn, that there is a Divine detective system in the universe, by whose workings “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” It is easy to deceive the world. Men may consider us generous, when in reality we are pinched and small in our charities. To God, this world is one vast whispering-gallery, and every sin which men commit reports itself to Him; and “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid that shall not be known.” Men cannot measure our consecration to God.

IV. The punishment of the sin.—It was startling and severe. One moment Ananias and Sapphira stood before the apostle in the flush of life and health, with the lie upon their lips; the next they were in eternity, beginning the experience of its unchanging awards. The penalty might be judged extreme for a single sin; but, at the outset of the Christian Church, it was important to emphasise the fact that the liberty of the Gospel was not license. More than that, the sin itself was significant. As the single blossom is evidence whether the stock from which it comes is noxious weed or fragrant flower, so this action was proof of a heart alienated from God in its deepest life and purposes. Such feeling and intention was a hindrance to the kingdom of righteousness. And this punishment was anticipated and representative. The judgment continues to be executed. Men now who attempt to defraud God by their partial consecration, by the much they spend on themselves and the little they devote to Him, are not beaten down as with a lightning-stroke; but, all the same and just as really, they die spiritually. They are dying at the root. The complete loss of spiritual life is only a question of time. Atom by atom their interest in Divine things dissipates; headland after headland of faith sinks into indistinctness in their drift away from them; doctrine and duty lose their hold on their acceptance and conduct; and at last they have a name to live and are dead.—Monday Club Sermons.

Ananias and Sapphira.

I. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira.—It is expressly stated to have been “lying unto the Holy Ghost” (Acts 5:3). It will be observed that in Acts 5:3-4 the personality and Deity of the Spirit are asserted in an incidental way. Peter varies the charge of lying to the Spirit in the third verse to lying to God in the fourth.

1. Their act was gratuitous.—In the community of goods which prevailed in the infant Church the rights of property were not obliterated; there was no compulsory communism.

2. It was marked by covetousness. There is a strange mingling of discordant elements in their act. They loved the praise of men, and were unwilling to be held in less consideration than Barnabas. But they loved money quite as well, even better. Zeal and faith of some sort led them to profess the name of Christ, but beneath their profession lurked a hateful lust for influence and greed of money.

3. Unbelief also entered into and aggravated their guilt. This had a twofold aspect. Obviously, they distrusted God. We can imagine that the failure of the sustentation-fund was the subject of anxious debate between them. “Suppose this community of goods should become exhausted, what then? Is it not our duty to retain some security against the contingencies of the future?” They feared to endanger their comforts beyond recall; a portion of their property would be safest in their own hands. Moreover, there appears to have been a worse feature than distrust of God in their act. There was the feeling, latent, unconfessed mayhap, that they would not and could not be detected in their deed.

4. The sin was preconcerted. They “agreed together” to deceive the Church and the Spirit in the Church. The plan was concocted deliberately and dispassionately. No doubt they spent much time and thought in working out a device which should save appearances with the Church and gratify their avarice. Together they contrived the pious fraud, and they executed it together. This fact intensifies the criminality of their conduct.

5. The devil’s agency in the sin. “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie unto the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” Covetousness and unbelief prompted the deceit, we might be disposed to say. But the apostle saw deeper. He saw that the devil had been joined by this guilty couple. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this wretched pair was assisted by the devil in the attempt to impose upon the Spirit of God. The device which they adopted exposed them to his assaults. Had they been honest with themselves, with the Church, and, above all, with God, they had been kept from the snare of the fowler. Instead, they helped him weave and spread the net in which themselves were taken. Poor victims!

II. Their Punishment.—it was instantaneous. As their sin challenged both the omniscience and justice of God, He at once vindicated the holiness and majesty of His character. Instantly His wrath streamed forth and consumed the guilty couple.

III. The lessons taught by this solemn incident are many—a few of which only may be designated.

1. And mark well the Divine abhorrence of prevarication.
2. The certainty of the exposure of hypocrisy. God will unmask the hypocrite.
3. Religious enthusiasm without grace is dangerous. People run fearful risks when they profess more than their spiritual strength can carry.—W. G. Moorehead, D.D.

Verses 12-16


Acts 5:12-13. Among the people.—I.e., the population of Jerusalem. All.—Either all the apostles, the rest being believers and unbelievers (Alford, Olshausen, Hackett), or more likely all the believers, the rest being the people, or those not believing (Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Holtzmann, Zöckler, Spence, and others).

Acts 5:15. Into the streets.—So the best MSS. (א, A, B, D2). Codex D reads κατὰ, along or down, as if whole streets were occupied with sick people. That couches were cheap articles (Kuinoel) used by the common people, whereas the rich employed beds, is an unfounded distinction. The shadow of Peter, etc., should read, that, Peter coming along, at least his shadow, etc. Compare the miracles wrought by Paul’s handkerchiefs (Acts 19:12). It is not expressly said that Peter’s shadow worked cures, but this is thought by some (Zeller, Holtzmann, Besser) to be implied by the narrator in the statement of.

Acts 5:16. And they were healed every one.—Yet the clause does not say they were healed by Peter’s shadow. “If however this really took place with respect to some of them, it was, done through faith” (Stier). (See further in “Hints.”)


A Page from the Church’s Life; or, the Calm before a Storm

I. The miraculous activity of the apostles.—I. Its scene.

(1) Solomon’s porch, in the Temple (see on Acts 3:11). In spite of the Sanhedrim’s prohibitory menaces the apostles had returned to their accustomed post, thus carrying out their own intimation (Acts 4:19-20), and exhibiting praiseworthy faith and fortitude.

(2) The streets. Wherever the apostles were expected to come the sick were by friends carried out in couches and laid in the way, that at least Peter’s shadow might fall upon them.
2. Its form.

(1) Generally, signs and wonders (see Acts 2:22).

(2) Particularly, works of healing, wonders of mercy as distinguished from miracles of judgment like those performed on Ananias and Sapphira. This special activity in healing shown by the apostles was a manifest answer to the Church’s prayer (Acts 4:30).

3. Its subjects. The people—the outside public as opposed to the inside brethren. The miracle of judgment took place within the Church; the deeds of mercy were performed among the unbelievers.

4. Its result. It impressed the people towards the new cause, and gained accessions from their ranks to the Church community.

II. The rapid growth of the Church.—

1. Multitudes were added to the Lord. This was not what the Sanhedrists expected. Doubtless Annas and his colleagues supposed the apostles, with their followers, would be overawed by the display or authority which had been made. Little knew they that the apostles had on their sides, at their backs, and within their souls a higher authority and stronger power than that of the Sanhedrim (Romans 8:31). Nor were the Church’s accessions flowing in in smaller, but larger numbers than before; and these composed not of women merely, who might be regarded as sentimental and impulsive, but of men also, who were less easily moved by feeling than by judgment. “Men and women to make amends for Ananias and Sapphira,” writes Stier, who likewise adds, “it must, of course, be understood that when married couples were among these believers, their children were included in the bond of union and were looked upon as hallowed.”

2. Through the preaching of the word. It cannot be inferred that the apostles only worked miracles, and did not teach. Nor is it reasonable to hold that what attracted the multitudes was the exhibition of supernatural power rather than the unfolding of Christian wisdom. It is not the sign that converts, but the thing signified. The Holy Ghost applies not miracles but truth to the heart and conscience (see John 16:13-14).

3. In spite of the judgment pronounced on Ananias and Sapphira. At first this appeared to exercise a deterrent influence upon the crowds. Ultimately the word of God prevailed, and drew them over to the apostles and to the Lord in large companies.


1. That no opposition will hinder a true minister from his sacred calling.
2. That nothing should be allowed to break the unity of a Christian congregation.
3. That faithful ministers and united Churches will always command the respect of outside beholders.
4. That so long as a Church is alive with the life of the Holy Spirit it will grow.
5. That it is a mistake to fancy Christian discipline will frighten people from joining a Church.


Acts 5:12-14. The Palmy Days of the Primitive Church.—Then the Christian disciples were—

I. United among themselves, which they have never been since.

II. Magnified by the people.—Whereas, alas! now they are too often despised.

III. Increased from without—Instead of which there has often been a falling away from within.

Acts 5:14. Four Causes of Joy in a Christian Church.

I. When the preaching of the gospel results in making believers.—That shows the truth is being preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.

II. When those who believe do not stand aloof in isolation from their Christian brethren, but connect themselves with the fellowship of the saints. This is what is meant by being added to the Lord.

III. When the number of the Church’s converts is large.—No doubt one soul is infinitely valuable; but special gladness attends the ingathering of multitudes.

IV. When the Church’s converts include persons of both sexes.—Within the Church there is a place for both men and women. Each has services to render which the other cannot perform. A cause of regret it is when either of them stand aloof in hostility or indifference towards Christianity.

Acts 5:15. Peter’s Shadow.

I. It is not affirmed in the narrative that Peter’s shadow wrought miracles, though Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons did (Acts 19:12).—That Peter’s shadow could effect cures may have been only a notion of the people, not of Peter or of Luke.

II. If Peter’s shadow wrought miracles, it was only instrumentally, as was the case with the hem of Christ’s garment (Matthew 20:21) and the handkerchiefs and aprons of Paul.—Any instrument will do to work a miracle with when it is used by Him who can work equally well with or without an instrument.

III. If Peter’s shadow wrought miracles, the credit was due neither to the shadow nor to Peter, but to God, “who alone doeth great wonders” (Psalms 136:4), and to Christ, from whom the healing virtue proceeded.

IV. If Peter’s shadow wrought miracles, how much more could Peter’s Master, the Risen Christ, do the same!

Note on Peter’s Shadow.—“We need find no stumbling-block in the fact of Peter’s shadow having been believed to be (or, as is surely implied, having been) the medium of working miracles. Cannot the ‘Creator Spirit’ work with any instruments or with none, as pleases Him? And what is a hand or a voice more than a shadow, except that the analogy of the ordinary instrument is a greater help to faith in the recipient? Where faith, as apparently here, did not need this help, the less likely medium was adopted” (Alford). “Those who take offence at the healing virtue of Peter’s shadow and of Paul’s sweat band (Acts 19:12) understand not the humane and condescending gentleness of God, who deals with all who seek His help according to each one’s understanding. The shadow, indeed, wrought not the healing, and had any one trusted in the overshadowing of a mere man he would assuredly have been punished by the spirit-trying apostle; but the healing was wrought by the power of God, which the sick sought in Peter, who looked upon them as he did upon the lame man (Acts 3:4), and gave them what he had, according to their faith” (Besser).

Verses 17-32


Acts 5:17. The high priest.—Annas, as in Acts 4:6. Indignation.—Not envy or jealousy (R.V.), but hot, angry zeal.

Acts 5:19. Not the but an Angel of the Lord; i.e., sent by the Lord, or the Exalted Christ.

Acts 5:20. All the words of this life.—I.e., of this resurrection life which the Sadducees denied, or of this eternal life which the apostles preached, or of this blessed life which the angel himself enjoyed, or all of these together.

Acts 5:21. All the senate, or eldership. Whether a special meeting of the presbyters (a wider conception than the Sanhedrim) was summoned to assist the Sanhedrim (Meyer, Wendt, Holtzmann), or only the Sanhedrim, called in the Old Testament Apocrypha, the senate (Schürer, ii. 149) was convened (Zöckler, Hackett), cannot be determined.

Acts 5:24. They doubted of them.—Better, were much perplexed concerning them—i.e., the apostles (Alford), or the words reported about the apostles (Hackett). Whereunto this would grow.—What this would become, this incident of their escape from prison and this movement of which they were the leaders.

Acts 5:26. Lest they should be stoned depends upon “not with violence” (Alford, Hackett), rather than upon “they feared” (Holtzmann).

Acts 5:28. This man’s blood upon us recalls Matthew 27:25.

Acts 5:29. We ought to obey (πειθαρχεῖν, to obey or acknowledge as ruler, stronger than ἀκούειν, Acts 4:19) God rather than man.—Compare Socrates to his judges, πείσομαι δὲ μᾶλλον τῷ Θεῷ ἤ ὕμιν (Plato, Apologia, xvii. D).

Acts 5:31. With, or by, rather than “to.” See Acts 2:33. Not to be, but (as) a prince (as in Acts 3:15)—i.e., as theocratic Lord and King of His people, and a Saviouri.e., as the originator of the Messianic salvation (Holtzmann).


Annas upon the Move; or, the Bursting of the Storm

I. The high priest and the angel of the Lord.—The high priest’s action against the apostles was:

1. Dictated by evil motives.

(1) Indignation. If not grieved at the miraculous activity of the apostles in healing (which they probably were) he and his associates felt annoyed at the persistence of the apostles in teaching doctrines which they, the high priest and his colleagues, did not believe. Most men are intolerant of beliefs to which they cannot themselves subscribe. No matter how excellent in character and beneficent in action other people may be, unless these swear by their superiors’ Shibboleths, they are disliked, if not oppressed, for their non-conformity. The Christian Church, to the amazement of the world, has often followed in the steps of the Jewish Sanhedrim!
(2) Jealousy. The high priest and his associates were offended at the growing influence of the apostles and the cause they represented. Few things are harder to bear with equanimity than the popularity of rivals and much more of opponents. The increase of the apostles in public esteem meant the decline of the Sanhedrists in national favour.
2. Concurred in by his associates. “Those that were with him” were not his colleagues in the Sanhedrim afterwards mentioned as the council (Acts 5:21), but his co-religionists, belonging to the sect of the Sadducees. Evil-doers never want allies. The difficulty has ever been to find fellow-helpers in good.

3. Observed by an unseen eye. The Lord noticed the angry feelings of the high priest, his rising indignation and jealousy, the secret confabulations between him and his associates, the order issued for the arrest of the apostles, the execution of that order by the officers of the Sanhedrim, and the consignment of the servants of Jesus to the public ward. “All things are naked and manifest unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13; compare Acts 1:24; Revelation 2:18; Revelation 2:23).

4. Counterworked by an invisible agent. “An angel of the Lord,” celestial intelligences being all subject to the exalted Christ (1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 22:16), visited the prison by night at his King’s command (Hebrews 1:14), opened its doors, as he or another (Acts 12:7) afterwards did to Peter, and having fetched them out commanded them to resume teaching in the temple. When Christ and His battalions take the field against confederacies of evil, whether human or angelic, these are sure to be overthrown and their projects scattered to the winds (Psalms 2:4-5).

II. The high priest and the senate of Israel.—Having effected the arrest of the apostles, the high priest and his confederates convened a meeting of the Sanhedrim or High Ecclesiastical Council.

1. When? At daybreak, about 6 a.m., before which hour a meeting of the court could not be held,—about the time when the apostles had resumed their public exhortations in the temple.

2. Why? To try the prisoners who on the preceding night had been committed to the cells, and were now to be fetched from confinement and placed at the Baruch

3. In what spirit? With a firm determination to put down the nuisance of teaching in the temple porch about Jesus and the resurrection. Thousands of civic and ecclesiastical rulers since then have attempted to do the like, and with as little success. Upon the whole the world’s potentates (and sometimes also the Church’s rulers) do not relish preaching that talks about Jesus and the resurrection.

III. The high priest and his apparitors.—

1. The bootless errand. Commissioned to fetch the apostles, the officers of the Sanhedrim repaired to the prison house and found it shut, with the warders at their posts. Having opened its massive gates and penetrated to the interior, to their astonishment they discovered no man within. However they had escaped the prisoners were gone.

2. The perplexed judges. When the officers returned with their tale, the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests were filled with terror. “Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.” They could not tell what to make of it. What the upshot of this incident might be they could not predict. Not for an instant dreamt they of treachery on the part of the gaolers; they discerned that it was a miracle by which they were confronted, and they feared.

3. The startling announcement. Whilst pondering the situation, they became further dismayed by the exciting news, reported by a messenger, that the men wanted had resumed their old work of preaching in the temple. This must have strongly confirmed the Sanhedrists’ suspicion that the escape from prison had been effected by supernatural means. Prisoners who had attained liberty by treachery would hardly have returned to their accustomed haunts. The fact that the apostles were again preaching in the temple indicated they had some superior authority at their backs.

4. The second apprehension. The captain of the temple and the officers of the Sanhedrim, having renewed endeavours to arrest the preachers, used no violence on this occasion because of secret alarms for their own safety, the people being on the side of the apostles. Nor was violence required, since the apostles offered no resistance—in this following both the teaching (Matthew 5:39) and example (John 18:8) of their Muster.

IV. The high priest and the apostles.—1 The accusation. Set before the council, the apostles were charged by the president, in the name of his colleagues, with three crimes:

(1) With having disobeyed the instructions given by the court at a previous sederunt. A grave offence had the court’s orders been just, and dangerous considering the men who composed (Acts 4:5-6) the court, and the temper in which these then were (Acts 5:17).

(2) With having filled Jerusalem with their teaching, an indirect admission of, and unwilling testimony to, the growing popularity of the new religion, as well as of the unwearied assiduity of its teachers in promulgating their tenets.
(3) With seeking to fix on them, the Sanhedrists, the guilt of their Master’s murder. This was putting into words what the councillors’ own hearts kept whispering. Conscience is ill to silence even in the worst and most ignorant of men; how much more in men who are good (after a fashion) and enlightened?
2. The defence. Offered by Peter and the apostles, or by him on their behalf and with their concurrence.

(1) A great principle restated. That it was their (the apostles’ and every one’s) duty to obey God rather than man. Of this principle they had reminded the court on a former occasion (Acts 4:19), and now satisfy themselves with its repetition. About the second and third charges, which, being true, needed no defence, they are silent, confining their remarks to the one which, though also true, required justification. And the justification they offered was short, simple, sufficient, and unanswerable.

(2) A great story rehearsed, in four parts. First, that they had slain Jesus by hanging Him on a tree—they, the Jewish nation in general, and the Sanhedrists in particular. Peter and his fellow-apostles had manifestly lost nothing of their boldness and plain-speaking since last they stood before their accusers. Second, that the God of their fathers had raised up Jesus from the dead (once more the obnoxious doctrine!), and exalted Him to the right hand of the Majesty on high (a claim for divine dignity to the man they had slain!). Third, that Christ had been exalted as Prince and Saviour, from which it could be gathered that they had totally misconceived His character and mistaken His person. Fourth, that the grand object contemplated by His exaltation was that He might give repentance unto Israel (them and the people) and remission of sins. A strong pressing home of guilt on His accusers.

(3) A great claim reasserted. That they, the accused, were witnesses of these facts and doctrines complained of—witnesses appointed and put forth by Him, and for Him, and therefore His witnesses responsible to Him alone. Yea, going beyond this, that the Holy Ghost jointly witnessed with them, since, having been given to them by God and dwelling in them, He spoke and acted through them in the words they uttered and the miracles they wrought.


1. That “the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them” (Psalms 34:7).

2. That “He who sitteth in the heavens” laughs at His enemies and has them “in derision” (Psalms 2:4).

3. That the doubts of the chief priests as to whereunto this (Christianity) would grow have been largely answered—the faith planted by the apostles intends to grow till it fills the whole earth (Luke 13:21).

4. That nothing can release from responsibility to God (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

5. That Christ will pardon even His greatest enemies if they repent.


Acts 5:17. Misdirected Indignation.

I. Against the publication of the truth, rather than against the dissemination of error.

II. Against well doing, instead of against evil doing.

III. Against good men, and not against bad.

IV. Against other people’s supposed wickedness, and not against one’s own real sins.

Acts 5:19. Ministering Spirits.—The angels of God are represented in Scripture, and in this instance appear—

I. As the friends of the righteous.—Shown by the service rendered to the apostles.

II. As watchers in the night.—Proved by the observation taken of the apostles’ incarceration.

III. As rescuers from trouble.—Seen in the opening of the prison doors, and liberation of the prisoners.

IV. As directors in the way of duty.—Exemplified by the order given to the liberated apostles.

V. As messengers of the heavenly life to the world.—Suggested by the commission put into the hands of the apostles.

VI. As conveyers to the heavenly life and eternal joy.—Evinced by the interest taken in the gospel of life.—Compiled from, Lange.

Acts 5:20. The Preacher’s Commission.

I. His authority.—The divine commandment—“Go ye!”

II. His vocation.—To “speak,” not to write, but to proclaim with the voice.

III. His sphere.—The temple; or, in New Testament times the Christian Church.

IV. His theme.—All the words of this life—the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel.

V. His audience.—“The people,” to believers and unbelievers; to the former for edification, to the latter for conversion.

Acts 5:23. The World’s Veto upon Preaching.

I. Unreasonable.—To expect men to keep silence who have been commanded by Christ to speak, who know what they speak to be true, and who feel themselves impelled to speak by the inner voice of conscience.

II. Unjust.—To command men to desist from preaching is to invade the domain of conscience which belongs alone to Christ, and is therefore in the highest degree culpable and reprehensible.

III. Unkind.—To impose silence upon men who offer mankind the highest conceivable blessing (repentance and remission of sins) on the easiest possible terms (faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ) is surely the opposite of benevolent.

IV. Unsuccessful.—Those who attempt to put down preaching never really succeed. So long as Christ lives and reigns they never will succeed. All interdicts upon the gospel break down. The more men are punished for preaching, the hotter grows their zeal to persist in the forbidden work.

Acts 5:29. Obedience to God and Man.

I. It is possible to obey man rather than God—which is sin. Unfortunately this is often done, when inclination and supposed self-interest side with man’s orders rather than with God’s.

II. It is proper to obey God rather than man—which is duty. Proper in the sense of right, when God’s orders and man’s come into collision, man being a creature who is himself under authority to God.

III. It is practicable to obey man as well as God—which is both desirable and dutiful, when man’s orders are not countermanded by God’s.

The Power of the Civil Magistrate.

I. Its source.—God (Romans 13:1). Civil government a natural institution and divine ordinance.

II. Its sphere.—Civil affairs, or men considered solely as citizens. Things temporal and material, social and political.

III. Its limitations.—

1. Into the domain of conscience, and that signifies into the realm of religion it dare not intrude.
2. Even in its own sphere it is forbidden to enjoin anything which contravenes the law of God.
3. The power of the sword, or the infliction of pains and penalties, is permissible solely within its own specific province.

IV. Its guide.—

1. The light of the natural conscience.
2. The teachings of revelation so far as these bear on the duties of magistrates and citizens.

Acts 5:32. Witness of the Holy Ghost.

I. The subject of His witness.—“These things.” The facts of Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation, and the doctrines founded on and connected with them.

II. The medium of His witness.—“Those who obey Him,” the Holy Ghost, by believing the gospel; whom He thereupon inhabits, and through whom He delivers His testimony.

III. The object of His witness.—The unbelieving world who, by beholding the faith of Christians and listening to their testimony, are frequently brought to believe.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost.

I. The Author of this gift.—God, the Father, from whom the Holy Ghost proceedeth. No contradiction to Acts 2:33.

II. The recipients of this gift.—Those who obey God, who commands men to repent and believe upon His Son.

III. The nature of this gift.—An inhabitation of the repenting and believing heart by the gracious influences of the Divine Spirit.

IV. The object of this gift.—To enable those who receive it to witness for Jesus Christ.

Acts 5:17-32. The Fortunes of the Twelve.

I. Incarcerated by the Sanhedrim.—A signal honour to suffer affliction for Christ’s sake.

II. Delivered by an angel.—“Are they not all ministering spirits?” etc.

III. Honoured by the people.—These at this time heard the apostles gladly. Popular favour not always a good sign. Here, however, it was.

IV. Supported by the Holy Spirit.—A proof that they were obeying His directions.

Acts 5:17-32. The Sanhedrim and the College of the Apostles.

In considering the lessons to be drawn from this history we see—

I. How God overrules persecution and opposition for the good of His Church.—It seemed indeed a dark hour for the cause of Christ when all of the apostles were shut up in the common prison, and left, apparently, in the power of their bitterest enemies.

II. This history shows us rationalism confounded.—Just when rationalism thought to put down the supernatural, lo! it appears in a new manifestation before them. There was evidently a power working for these apostles which prison-walls, bolts, bars, and guards of soldiers could not restrain. The perplexity of the council is further increased when one came saying, “Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.” It was this conduct, as much as the strangeness of their deliverance, that impressed the senate. Then, as often since, men were made to see that there is a hidden, spiritual force about the gospel which cannot be accounted for, save on the ground that the life of Christ is in it.

III. We can also learn from this that the enemies of the gospel are made to fear and respect those who are fearless in proclaiming it.

IV. Finally, we have in this history Peter’s address to the Sanhedrim.—It is the jewel of which all of which all the rest is only the casket. As a defence nothing could be more admirable and to the point than the words of Peter. The specifications in the indictment against the apostles were two: first, that they had disobeyed the lawful authority in continuing to preach after they had been strictly charged to speak no more in the name of Jesus; second, that by their preaching they were stirring up the people to avenge the crucifixion of Jesus upon the Sanhedrim. To the first Peter replies, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” This was their justification for the disobedience charged. In answer to the second he fearlessly tells the Sanhedrim their guilt, and charges upon them the death of Jesus. It is most significant that in the defence which Peter makes, as indeed in all apostolic preaching, special prominence is given to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The apostle well knew that the larger portion of the Sanhedrim was of the sect of the Sadducees, yet he does not hesitate in his testimony. There are three great indestructible facts that have remained all through the ages as witnesses to the reality of the resurrection. The first is the testimony of the apostles; the second is the Christian Church; the third is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The proof which they furnish is conclusive, and we may rest assured that our holy faith, so glorious in the hopes which it inspires and so wonderful in the destiny which it opens for sinful men, is founded upon the ROCK.—S. J. Niccolls, D.D.

Verses 33-42


Acts 5:33. Cut to the heart.—Lit. sawn asunder, torn in pieces, sc. in their hearts. Compare Acts 7:54—a much stronger expression than that used in Acts 4:2 or Acts 16:18, and closely resembling that employed in Acts 2:37.

Acts 5:34. A pharisee.—A member of one of the principal religious sects in Jerusalem, the others being Sadducees and Essenes. See further on Acts 15:5. Gamaliel = “Benefit of God” (see Numbers 1:10; Numbers 2:20). Probably Gamaliel the elder, one of the seven to whom the Jews gave the title Rabbi. In the Talmud he appears as a zealous Pharisee and distinguished teacher of the law.

Acts 5:35. Take heed to yourselves.—Either with respect to these men, what ye intend to do (Hackett), or what ye intend to do with respect to these men (Holtzmann).

Acts 5:36-37. Theudas and Judas.—Concerning the supposed chronological difficulty connected with these names see “Homiletical Analysis.”

Acts 5:39. In ye cannot overthrow it read for “it” them. Lest haply, etc., may be connected either with “let them alone,” or with a supplied thought such as “and ye ought not to attempt to overthrow them,” or “take heed to yourselves.”

Acts 5:40. And when they had called the apostles, sc. unto them, so as to preserve the force of the preposition πρός—the apostles having been removed a little space apart from the council during the progress of the deliberations (Acts 5:34).

Acts 5:41. Worthy to suffer shame.—Or, worthy to be disgraced; a bold oxymoron. For His name should be for the name—i.e., of Jesus, which is here omitted, either because it had just been mentioned (Acts 5:40), or because “the name” had already come to be a term in familiar use among the disciples. (Compare Acts 9:16.)

Acts 5:42. In every house.—Better, at home, or from house to house, as in Acts 2:46.


Gamaliel and his Colleagues; or, a Friend at Court

I. The person of Gamaliel.—

1. His name. Borne by more than one celebrated scribe of the first and second centuries after Christ, this name—meaning “Benefit of God” (Numbers 1:10; Numbers 2:20; Numbers 7:54)—belonged first to Rabbi Gamaliel, the elder Hillel’s grandson; Gamaliel the younger flourished about 80–118 A.D. The former, in all probability, the individual referred to by Luke 2:0. His profession.

(1) A member of the Sanhedrim—“one in the council”; hardly its president (the Talmud).
(2) A Pharisee, one of the straitest sects of religionists in Jerusalem, who differed from the Sadducees in holding the doctrine of a resurrection, and outdid these in extravagant adherence to the letter of the Mosaic Law.

(3) A scribe or doctor of the law, virtually a professor of theology like his grandfather Hillel and his father Simon (said to be, but hardly likely, the Simeon of Luke 2:25), whom he succeeded. He is reported to have had one thousand scholars, of whom five hundred studied the law, and five hundred Greek wisdom (Talmud)—a statement which, if it could be depended on, would shed an interesting light on Paul’s knowledge of the Greek poets. (See Riehm’s Handwörterbuch des Biblischen Altertums, art. Gamaliel).

3. His renown. “Had in reputation among all the people,” also among his colleagues, for his zeal as a Pharisee, his learning as a teacher, and his charity as a man. In corroboration of the first may be mentioned that when he died men said reverence for the law, purity, and continence had perished; the best certificates of the second were his brilliant scholars, Onkelos the Targumist and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:3); the third his counsel to the Sanhedrists attested.

4. His history. According to Christian tradition he embraced Christianity, and, along with his son Ahib and Nicodemus, was baptised by Peter and John, the Clementine Recognitions even affirming that at this time he was a secret disciple. This statement, however, Jewish tradition declines to verify, making him die a Pharisee eighteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem.

II. The advice of Gamaliel.—

1. His recommendations. Two things he urged upon his colleagues.

(1) Caution. To “take heed to themselves with regard to the apostles what they intended to do.” Always commendable, even in a right course, circumspection and prudence are specially desirable when the path inviting entrance is dubious and dangerous, not to say wrong. To look well before one leaps is a safe maxim.
(2) Tolerance. To hold their hands and let the apostles alone. If they could not help their prisoners’ cause, at least they should not hinder it. “Neither punish them for what they have done nor restrain them for the future. Connive at them—let them take their course—let not our hand be upon them” (Henry). This, the least the truth has a right to expect and receive at the hands of men.

2. His arguments. Also two: one for each recommendation.

(1) One for the caution, this, drawn from past experience, that possibly need would not arise for action in the matter, as the present movement would most likely run the course of other popular agitations which in former times had suddenly sprung up, flourished for a season, and eventually subsid d. One such had been the insurrection of Theudas. (Note. This Theudas was not the revolutionary of that name in the reign of Claudius, and under the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus A.D. 44, ten or twelve years after this speech of Gamaliel (Jos., Ant., XX. Acts 5:1), but either another of the same name, which was common, who had figured in the public gaze shortly before; or the Judas, who, after Herod’s death, led a robber band against the palace of Sepphoris in Galilee (Jos., Ant., XVII. x. 5), Judas, according to Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:16, being interchangeable with Thaddeus or Theudas; or the Simon (Jos., Ant., XVII. x. 6), one of Herod’s slaves, who got himself proclaimed king, burnt down the royal palace at Jericho, with others of the king’s houses throughout the land, but eventually was captured and beheaded—it being supposed (Sonntag, see Hackett) that Theudas was a title Simon had assumed on pretending to royal dignity). Another of these abortive insurrections was that headed by Judas of Galilee (Jos., Ant., XX Acts 5:2; Wars, II. viii. 1), called also a Gaulonite—i.e., an inhabitant of the district east of Galilee (Jos., Ant., XVIII. i. 1), who, in the days of the taxing, or enrolment—i.e., registration of persons and property with a view to taxation, conducted under Cyrenius (Luke 2:2), raised a revolt against Rome which attracted numerous supporters, but terminated in failure, he himself getting killed and his followers dispersed. One of these followers is believed (but without foundation) to have been Simon the Canaanite, or Simon Zelotes, the apostle.

(2) For the tolerance this, derived from reflection, that “resistance was either needless or hopeless” (Plumptre), that the movement, if of men, would sooner or later collapse, while if of God, it would defy all attempts at overthrow, while those who opposed it would be guilty of fighting against God. If the first part of this argument sprang from timidity, the second was the outcome of sober judgment. If God was behind the apostles it would be fruitless and dangerous to stand before them.
3. His motives. Various have been suggested.

(1) A secret conviction that the movement was of God, though as yet not prepared to act on this conviction and espouse it boldly. According to this view (which, however, is pure conjecture), Gamaliel was a secret disciple like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, probably one of “the great company of priests” who soon after “became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

(2) A latent sympathy with the apostle’s doctrine concerning Jesus, arising from the fact of his being a Pharisee, and therefore a believer in the resurrection, and from the probable circumstance of His having sat among the doctors whom Jesus, when a boy, questioned in the temple (Luke 2:46).

(3) A perceptible leaning to the sentiments of his two colleagues, Nicodemus who once advised that Christ should be let alone (John 7:50-51), and Joseph of Arimathea, who consented not to the counsel and deed of Caiaphas (Luke 23:51).

(4) Discernment to perceive that if the movement was purely fanatical, it would not be suppressed but only rendered more violent by opposition.

III. The success of Gamaliel.—His advice prevailed.

1. To all appearance unanimously. At least no opposition was offered to his cautious counsel. Having a majority in their favour, his sentiments were accepted without a division, and became the finding of the court. Yet

2. Not altogether wholly. Though persuaded to depart from their murderous intention (Acts 5:33) and to spare their prisoners’ lives, his colleagues could not appease their rage without inflicting on the apostles some punishment. Perhaps, also, they felt that something must be done on the one hand to justify their interference with the apostles’ liberty, and on the other hand to express their displeasure at the apostles’ disobedience. Accordingly they beat or scourged the apostles as Christ had been (John 19:1), and as Paul afterwards was scourged on five occasions (2 Corinthians 11:24). The scourge was a whip of two lashes, “knotted with bones or heavy indented circles of bronze, or terminated by hooks, in which case it was aptly denominated a scorpion” (quoted by Hackett). Still,

3. To all intents effectually. Charged not to speak in the name of Jesus—a useless rehearsal of a useless interdict which they could not obey (Acts 4:20), the apostles were forthwith dismissed, no doubt reluctantly, their judges inwardly feeling they would rather have incarcerated permanently, or killed off finally such obnoxious persons as the apostles were supposed to be, but yet really so that they “departed from the presence of the council,” and on their part triumphantly, rejoicing they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Him whom they served, in whom they believed, and of whom they witnessed, and permanently so that “every day in the temple and at home they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ.”


1. That God can raise up champions to speak for His people and defend His cause in the most unlikely places and at the most unlikely times. Examples: Moses at the court of Pharaoh; Elijah in the days of Ahab; John the Baptist in the reign of Herod. Luther, Latimer, Knox.
2. That good men generally carry with them an influence for good which weighs with and tells upon their contemporaries. Witness Samuel and Daniel in Old Testament times; Nicodemus and Gamaliel in the Sanhedrim.
3. That God’s servants may always comfort themselves with the reflection that His cause is invincible. Emblem: the bush burning yet not consumed.

4. That those who fight against God are engaged in a losing battle (Isaiah 27:4).

5. That God’s servants and Christ’s followers may suffer wrong, and yet the cause for which they suffer win the day.

6. That to suffer for righteousness’ sake is the highest honour a Christian can enjoy on earth (Matthew 5:10; 1 Peter 4:16).

7. That always and everywhere Christians should publish the name of Jesus as the Christ, or Anointed King and Saviour of mankind.


Acts 5:36. The World’s Somebodies.—Are not unfrequently.—

1. Pretentious nobodies.
2. Worthless impostors.
3. Arrogant deceivers.
4. Disastrous leaders.

Acts 5:38-39. Gamaliel’s counsel.

I. The good advice it contained.

1. To abstain from injuring the apostles or hindering the cause they advocated. This was practically a dissuasive against persecution.
2. To wait with patience for the decision which Providence would ultimately give on this as on every other movement. “Time tries all.”
3. To beware of doing anything that might seem like fighting against God.

II. The doubtful doctrine it preached.

1. That the goodness of a cause may always be judged by its success.
2. That men should regulate their conduct by the bearing it will have upon their own interests.
3. That man’s responsibilities towards the cause of God and Christ are discharged by simply letting it alone.

Acts 5:39. Fighting against God.

I. An old sin.

II. A common practice.

III. A hopeless enterprise.

IV. A perilous warfare.

V. A heinous wickedness.

Acts 5:35-39. Gamaliel’s Counsel.

I. A convenient counsel for the spiritually idle and for the politicians of the world.

II. A true counsel in opposition to senseless zeal.

III. A half counsel, when it concerns us to recognize, decide, and act at once.—Beck in Lange.

Acts 5:38-39. Of men or of God; or, the Origin of Christianity.

I. Christianity must be either of men or of God.—Either it is a creation or evolution of the human mind or a production and revelation of the divine Spirit. Either one, it may be the best, of ordinary nature religions, like those of paganism which it supplanted, like Buddhism, Confucianism, and Mohammedanism, or a distinctly supernatural religion, as Christ (John 7:16) and His apostles affirmed that it was, and as its adherents believed it to be. No middle alternative is possible.

II. If Christianity be of men it will assuredly come to nought.—It may seem for a time to be possessed of vitality, to manifest growth and to be productive of beneficial results, but these appearances will only be temporary. It will not succeed in lifting men much higher than other nature religions; it will not extend its dominion over a much greater territory than these; it will not exhibit qualities of permanence beyond what are displayed by these.

III. Thus far Christianity has not come to nought.—It has survived the assaults of paganism, and even overthrown paganism wherever it has spread. It has resisted the still more dangerous onsets of philosophy and science, and in a large measure Christianised these. It has stood up against the combinations of world empires, and reduced these, in name at least, to subjection beneath the sceptre of Christ. It has maintained its vitality and influence notwithstanding the corruptions of its purity that have arisen within its own burdens and from the midst of its own adherents. It has met the deepest spiritual wants of the individual soul and of the world in a way that no other religion has done. It has extended its sway to almost every country under heaven. After nineteen centuries it evinces no sign of decrepitude and decay. Other religions are waxing old and vanishing away; it is with the passing years increasing in vigour and acceptance.

IV. Hence Christianity can only be of heavenly origin.—This a necessary inference from the propositions laid down by Gamaliel. “By its fruits ye shall know it.” These are such as can be explained only on the hypothesis of its divine origin. This renders it certain that Christianity will prove itself to be successful—i.e., serving the ends of a religion—i.e., saving; universal, ultimately embracing the globe; and permanent, enduring till the close of time.

V. No combination of forces can hinder Christianity from eventually accomplishing its mission.—“Ye will not be able to overthrow it,” said Gamaliel. Gamaliel was right. If God be for it who can be against it? Who can fight successfully against God? “No weapon that is formed against it shall prosper”; “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


1. The claims which Christianity as a supernatural religion has on the minds and hearts of men.
2. The duty of Christians doing everything to further its triumph.
3. The folly of attempting to overthrow or even hinder it.

Acts 5:40. The Way of the Holy Cross.

I. Threatening (Acts 4:21).

II. Imprisonment (Acts 5:18).

III. Scourging (Acts 5:40).

IV. Martyrdom (Acts 7:60).

Acts 5:41. Suffering Shame for the Name.

I. Comfort in it. That what one suffers for is Christ’s name (1 Peter 4:14).

II. Honour in it. That by means of suffering one can help on the triumph of that name.

III. Glory in it. Since if one suffers with Christ here, he shall reign with Christ hereafter (2 Timothy 2:12).

Four Classes in the School of Suffering.

I. Obliged to suffer.

II. Willing to suffer.

III. Able to suffer.

IV. Permitted to suffer.—Hartman in Lange.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/acts-5.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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