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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

- Acts

by Daniel Whedon


Intended for Popular Use








THIS third volume of our Commentary of the New Testament embraces St. Luke’s specimen of Apostolic History, and St. Paul’s grand summary of Apostolic Doctrine. To bring a satisfactory treatment of two such books into so small a compass is hardly possible. It can be scarcely possible, especially, to meet any high expectations in discussing the book of Romans in so brief a style, when we note that, while so many ponderous volumes have within a few years past been published giving an Augustinian exposition, scarce anything has appeared in accordance with the views of the primitive Church of the first three centuries. Two more volumes of similar style and size will finish our work. Our trust is that the present and future volumes will be as favorably received as the previous, and our prayer is that the Divine blessing may render them an instrument of good to the Church and world.



How the wide circulation of the copies of the New Testament documents served as a check upon corruptions and forgeries we have illustrated in our note upon Matthew 1:1. No ancient documents were ever so securely guarded.

FIRST. The public reading, weekly, of them was universally practiced in the Christian Churches. Thirty-five years after the death of St. John, Justin Martyr says: “On the day called Sunday there is a meeting of all those residing in cities and the country, and then are read the memoirs απομνευματα , reminiscences, records) of the apostles, or the writings of the prophets, as long as suitable. Then, when the reader has finished his part, the president ( προεστως ) delivers all exhortation to encourage the audience in imitation of these noble examples.” This, of course, presupposes that every Church customarily had a copy deposited in its place for use. The anagnostes, or reader, was a regular official, superior to the deacon. Private Christians, by the mere hearing, sometimes committed the sacred books to memory. So St. John, Revelation 1:8, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy;” where the reader is in the singular and the audience in the plural. In the very first written book of the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, Paul says, “I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.” So, also, he required an exchange of epistles (in Colossians 4:16) between Churches. Circular epistles, like Ephesians, were written to a circuit of Churches. John addressed the seven Churches of Asia. Authoritative documents thus coming from apostles, men of confessed inspiration, superior to the prophets of old, immediately assumed the rank of Scripture. So that 2 Peter 3:16 gives the name of Scriptures to the writings of Paul. And thus the sacred canon arose, with a marked boundary line enclosing the apostolic documents and excluding all others. Isolated Churches, or sections of country, now and then might add the productions of some eminent character, as of Clement of Rome or Ignatius the martyr, but the great body of the Church omitted them. So that the canon of the New Testament had neither editors nor council decrees to select its books, they selected themselves, as we may say, and took their place spontaneously.

SECOND. The great apostolic Churches became safe custodians for the New Testament books. They were safeguards against corrupters, heretics, and apocryphal writers. Thus could Tertullian challenge all cavillers: “Run through the apostolic Churches, in which the chairs of the apostles still preside, in which the authentic letters of the apostles are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each. Is Achaia nearest you? you have Corinth; if you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi, you have Thessalonica; if in Asia, you have Ephesus; if in Italy, Rome.”

THIRD . The succession of pastors and bishops was a trustworthy conductor of a safe transmission of the true books. So against the heretic Marcion, who attempted to corrupt the Gospel of Luke: “We have also the Churches fostered by John. For though Marcion reject his Revelation, yet the series of bishops in those Churches, reckoned back to their beginning, will rest upon John as the author. In the same manner, also, the original of other Churches is known. I say, therefore, that the Gospel of Luke which we defend has been approved and established in those Churches from the time it was first published, and not in the apostolic Churches alone, but in all those which are joined in communion with them. But the Gospel of Marcion is unknown to most of them, and known to none who do not condemn it… The same authority of the apostolic Churches will also sustain the other Gospels, which are equally conveyed down to us by them; I mean those of John, Matthew, and Mark.”

FOURTH. The great multitude of Churches in Europe, Asia, and Africa was a security against collusion of any one set of Churches. Andrews Norton reckons that at a moderate calculation the number of Christians at the close of the second century would be three millions; and supposing, as we safely may, one copy of the Gospels to every fifty Christians, there would be sixty thousand copies scattered over Europe, Asia, and Africa in different languages. From these and other passages that might be quoted it is plain:

1 . That the authenticity and purity of the sacred documents were held by the early Church as a life-and-death matter. 2. That apostolic Churches and bishops who first received the documents were the true conservators and historical conductors of them down to the next generation. 3. That by that generation, the era of the great writers, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Clemens, and others in various quarters of the globe, they were received as historically transmitted, universally received, and possessed of an exclusive Divine authority as the sole rule of faith. By all these checks the possibility of the acceptance of forgeries, apocryphal documents, and corrupted copies, was shut out from the proper historical Churches of the apostles, and so from the genuine Catholic Church.*

[* This historical transmission must be distinguished from ecclesiastical tradition. The latter seeks to inculcate unwritten and unauthenticated dogmas upon the authority of a successional series of men. The former simply uses the succession as an historical witness to the identity of an original written document; and this proof from succession has to be confirmed by the agreement of numerous and widely distant copies.] But in process of time another great danger arose, namely, errors, and corruptions arising from the carelessness of transcribers. Before the art of printing the art of the copyist formed a great profession. But the thousands of copies made by hand had no inspired transcribers. Hence in the progress of centuries a great abundance of variations have arisen, against which the only remedy is an extensive comparison of copies.

When the art of printing made the multiplication of thousands of copies from a single impression possible, it was unfortunately the fact that the first copies printed from were far from being correct. This was true of Erasmus’ editions, from which our authorized English translation was essentially derived. The business of comparing copies and attaining a pure text has become a biblical science, in which the names of Griesbach, Bengel, Wetstein, Scholz, Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles have become eminent. This purification of the original does affect some important texts that touch upon both doctrines and morals, but not so as to disturb the foundations of our evangelical faith. These modifications are one of the foundations of the argument for, not a new translation, but a revision of our existing version. In such a revision, no doubt, all the great religious bodies that speak the English language could and should unite.

It is a matter of solemn interest to look with our own eyes upon a Codex or manuscript copy of the sacred text fourteen centuries old. Such a copy is the Codex Sinaiticus, discovered by Tischendorf in 1859 in the Convent of St. Catharine, on Mount Sinai. Nearly as old is the Codex Alexandrinus, which was presented by Cyril Lascar, Patriarch of Constantinople, to Charles I., and deposited in the British Museum. The Codex Vaticanus is, perhaps, as old as either; it is in the Vatican Library at Rome, guarded by Papal jealousy to a great degree, from the examination of scholars. These are the oldest three in existence, being severally in the possession of the Greek, the Protestant, and the Romish Church. The entire number of manuscripts in existence is about fifteen hundred. Of these a number, and those the earliest, are written, according to ancient custom, entirely in capital letters, and are thence called uncials. The large majority are written in a small or running hand, and are thence called cursives.

More important even than the various manuscripts are the early versions of the New Testament. “From the first century to the fifth,” says Professor Stowe, “there are not less than ten translations, and they are certainly a much better authority than the manuscripts which had no existence until early in the fourth century.” Again, great aid is derived, especially in important texts, from their quotation by early Christian writers from the first to the fifth centuries. “There are,” says Professor Stowe, “some seventy-five of these writers, and their quotations are so numerous, that if every manuscript of the New Testament were lost, the substance of it could be reproduced from their writings.” From these three sources, the manuscripts, the early versions, and the quotations of the early writers, we find ourselves assured that we have the text essentially pure as it came from the pens of the original authors. In our Commentary we have noted those few passages only in which the sense is materially varied.

The most important early versions are: 1. The Italic, being a Latin translation made in North Africa about fifty years after the death of St. John. It seems singular that the first Latin should have been not made at Rome; but this fact arose from the prevalence of Greek in that metropolis. The Italic version was revised by Jerome about the year 381; and Jerome’s version, called the Vulgate, was not only the standard version for Christendom for a thousand years, but was most absurdly declared by the Romish Council of Trent of equal authority with the original! The Vulgate is a version of great value, and all modern translations have been aided and influenced by its renderings. 2. The Peshito, or Syriac version, made about the same time with the Italic, in the language vernacular in Palestine at the time. It is in some respects the most valuable of versions, not only aiding to verify the meaning of the original, but serving to demonstrate the authenticity of the Sacred Canon itself.


1 . The first verse of the book claims it to be by the author of the Gospel of Luke 2:0. It was undoubtedly in the canon of Scriptures of the apostolic Church, growing as we have above described. The Syriac translation of the New Testament, called the Peshito, made probably, or at least commenced, before the canon was complete, contains Luke in its present position. 3. Eusebius places it as Luke’s among those books that were never disputed in the Church. It is quoted by the earliest Christian writers, as Polycarp, the Clementine Recognitions, and the Churches of Lyons and Vienna. 4. It is expressly attributed to Luke by Irenaeus, who was the hearer of Polycarp, the hearer of St. John the Apostle. 5. It is connected with Paul’s Epistles (as was amply and ingeniously shown by Paley in his Horae Paulinae) by the most striking and obviously undesigned coincidences, showing with a most convincing power to the patient student the authenticity and genuineness of both. 6. In its immense amount of connections with contemporaneous geography and history it is forcibly confirmed as accurate by history, coins, and medals. 7. The narrative of Paul’s shipwreck has been minutely examined by modern science, and all its details have been found completely true to nature and to the seamanship of the Mediterranean of Paul’s day. 8. The internal style has been closely analyzed by scholars, and found to confirm the sameness of the authorship of the Gospel and the Acts. And though there is an appearance of documents being used, and though the traits of Paul’s style appear in places, showing Paul to have furnished some matter, yet there is every appearance that the hand of Luke modelled the whole into one historical piece. No unhistorical work would have the slightest chance of standing such varied tests.

The Book of Acts might be shown to be so bound by occult ties, such as no unhistorical books could exhibit, with both the Gospel of Luke and the Epistles of Paul, as to prove beyond any fair refutation even the truth of Christianity. Not only the authenticity of the documents, but the truth of the history, would appear in a light very difficult for the candid mind to resist. What is true of the Gospel history is true of the Acts of the Apostles, the historical and miraculous texture of the narrative is so interwoven; that it cannot be separated. Professor Fisher says, in his Supernatural Origin of Christianity, p. 24, that “Holtzman shows that those individual touches in the evangelists’ portrait of Christ, the marvellous conjunction of which produces the highest grade of historical evidence, have come to us in the closest, most indissoluble connection with the narratives of miracles.” This argument, which requires detail to show its force, and is most convincing to the scholarly mind, not only proves the authenticity of the document, but disproves the charge of dishonesty upon the writer.


Luke’s professed object is to present to Theophilus, as a representative of the class of sincere inquirers into the origines of Christianity, a counterpart, a second volume to his Gospel. As the Gospel shows how Christianity was presented to the world in the person of Christ, so the Acts must show how it was founded in the world through the instrumentality of his chosen apostles and preachers. The book presents to the first view some irregularity of form. But as it is studied it seems to shape itself, as it were, into a half unconscious plan. Why some things are expanded and unfolded in all their particulars, and others are slightly touched or not touched at all; why particular individuals, as Paul, are minutely traced, and others, as the main body of the apostles, are but named, seems at first difficult to be explained. Luke’s propose being to give an idea how Christianity grew and expanded after the ascension, he seems governed partly by his amount of knowledge of facts yet not so as to be said to tell us all he knows and partly by the importance of his topic yet not so but that he omits many a point that we seem to ourselves to need to know.

The commencing and terminal points of Luke’s picture of the apostolic founding of Christianity are Jerusalem and Rome, the spiritual capital and the secular capital of the world. How Jerusalem was left and Judaism was rejected; how Christianity spread from Jewish limits toward world-wide dimensions; how in its regular progressive expansion the Roman capital was apostolically possessed and quietly held by Paul, and thus the heathen world mastered in its representative capital; and now, even here in Rome itself, the taking of Gentilism is preceded by a rejection by and of Judaism, Luke tells in a narrative inflexibly progressive and symmetrical. The moment we catch this fair view we see that every paragraph of the book is in its right place. We see that the book has a single author. And when the story is told, it ends with a sudden silence which admonishes every preacher who reads it promptly to stop when he is done.

Two apostles are made to predominate, Peter in the former, and Paul in the latter part. The former part is far more Jewish, more emotionally spiritual, more miraculous. It is as if the full miraculous power of the Pentecostal outpouring gradually waned. The Divine seems purposely to recede, and leave the human more and more to its own free work. The extraordinary, as in the providence of God, gradually subsides toward the ordinary.

The publication of Renan’s Life of St. Paul in our country has presented in a popular form the theory of the learned German sceptic, Baur, in regard to this book. It claims that the early Christians were divided into two hostile camps on the subject of Judaism and Gentilism, with the flags of Peter and Paul at their opposite heads. The Acts is, then, claimed to be a semi-historical narrative written as late as the middle of the second century, with the purpose of conciliating the two parties by presenting the two apostles in a harmonizing position. James of Jerusalem, it is said, was bitterly hostile to Paul, and the Epistle of Jude is an invective against Paul’s followers, who are the Nicolaitans denounced in the Apocalypse. But, 1. This late date of the Acts of the Apostles is contradicted by the positive proof of its earlier existence above indicated. 2. Renan has no authentic proof, from any other source than Acts itself, that any great party strife existed between Judaism and Gentilism. He assumes, then, an attempt at reconciliation without any valid independent proof of any thing to reconcile. 3. Paul’s own account of the degree and measure of the strife and reconciliation, as by him given in Galatians, (admitted by Renan to be genuine,) while adding new points, entirely accords with Luke’s. 4. Renan’s entire treatment of the character of James the Just is less extendedly, but even more intensely, a caricature than his treatment of St. Paul. 5. The absurd interpretations by which St. Jude and the Apocalyptist are made to write denunciations of the followers of Paul have no claim to respect, or even refutation, from biblical scholars. They do not present the prima facie plausibility justifying a serious extended notice. 6. If the Acts of the Apostles was an attempt to reconcile the followers of Peter and Paul, it is on the face of it more absurdly done than can be imputed to a writer of half Luke’s ability. If the book were so late a production, why were not Peter and Paul described as working heartily and extendedly together, as did Barnabas and Paul? Why are Peter and Paul so little brought into full association, as little, in fact, as Paul’s own Galatians would suggest? 7. No fierce partisan of Peter’s would be greatly conciliated by Luke’s cavalier abandonment of Peter at Acts 12:17, while Paul takes entire possession, as Dr. Schaff says, like the ascending sun before the receding moon. Luke’s narrative was quite as likely to offend as to conciliate. On the whole, we affirm that Luke’s purpose was simply and purely historical, and that Baur’s theory is entirely imaginary.

Renan’s work, we may add, was amply refuted, before it was published in America, by Professor Fisher’s Essays on the Origin of Christianity. ITS CHRONOLOGY.

The twenty-eight chapters of Acts cover a period, from the ascension to the close of Paul’s two years’ imprisonment at Rome, of about thirty years. As Luke, though giving internal measurements of time, does not mark his narrative with the dates of public chronology, only an approximation can be made to the real time-periods of the book. By the connexion of his narrative with known history we are able to fix with an approach to accuracy four leading points: 1. The death of Herod Agrippa, Acts 12:23; Acts 2:0. The famine under Claudius, Acts 11:28; Acts 3:0. The expulsion of the Jews from Rome, Acts 18:2; Acts 4:0. The entry of Festus upon his office. These furnish as respective dates the years 44, 45, 52, and 60. For the intervening events in Acts we can only estimate the probable times. We have given the apparent chronology in a series of Historical Notes in the course of our work.


BAUMGARTEN considered it a discredit to biblical science that it had fully confessed itself unable, down to his time, to discover any proper Plan of this Book, and so himself disclosed one which we consider the best outline that can be made, based upon our Lord’s words, Acts 1:8.

We might divide the work into two parts: the Local, Acts 1:1 to Acts 8:3, and the Itinerant, Acts 8:3 to Acts 28:31. To the former part belongs the Jerusalem or Pentecostal Church; and to the second, the expanding or Missionary Church. In the former, we have the Church engaged in self-concentration and self-intensification; in the latter, unfolding herself in energetic diffusion of Divine truth through the world.

Another division is nearly that of the Rhemish (Romanistic) Testament into the Petrine Part, Acts 1:1 to Acts 12:17, and the Pauline the remainder. Under the first is included the acts of the deacons, as being but subordinate to the Petrine predominance. And this is in many respects a suggestive division.

We adopt Baumgarten’s threefold outline only; the entire filling up is our own.



1. Preparation for the Pentecost Acts 1:4-26

1) Waiting at JerusalemActs 1:4-14; Acts 1:4-14

2) Gift of power Acts 1:4-14

3) The AscensionActs 1:4-14; Acts 1:4-14

4) Recompletion apostolic number. Peter’s First Speech Acts 1:15-26

2. Event of the Pentecost Acts 2:1-47

1) Effusion of the Pentecostal Spirit Acts 2:1-13

2) Peter’s Second Speech Acts 2:14-40

3) Pentecostal Church First Repose Period, with community of goods Acts 2:41-47

3. Pentecostal Church unfolding in miracle and endurance of persecution Acts 3:1 to Acts 4:37

1) The temple miracle healing lame-born Acts 3:1-11

2) Peter’s Third Speech Acts 3:12-26

3) Arraignment before Sanhedrin. Peter’s Fourth Speech Acts 4:1-22

4) Church prayer strengthened and firm Acts 4:23-31

5) Second Repose Period Community of goods Acts 4:32-37

4. Pentecostal Church unfolding in penal power Acts 5:1-16

1) Ananias and Sapphira Acts 5:1-11

2) Third Repose Period. Acts 5:12-16

5. Pentecostal Church in second Persecution Acts 5:17-42

1) Imprisonment of apostles and arraignment Acts 5:17-33

2) Speech of Gamaliel Peaceful results Acts 5:34-42

6. Pentecostal Church forming its economy Seven deacons chosen Acts 6:1-8

7. Pentecostal Church in last struggle and dispersion Acts 6:8 to Acts 8:4

1) Zeal and arraignment of Stephen Acts 6:9-15

2) His defence and martyrdom Acts 7:1-60

3) The funeral; the dispersion of the Pentecostal Church Acts 8:1-4



1. The deacon Philip evangelizes Samaria Acts 8:5-25

1) Simon Magus Gift by laying on of hands Peter and Simon Acts 8:5-25

2) Philip gathers the first-fruit of Africa, the Ethiopian Eunuch Acts 8:26-40

2. The new Apostle of the Gentiles called Acts 9:1-30

1) The persecuting Saul, on his way to Damascus, convertedActs 9:1-9; Acts 9:1-9

2) Ananias baptizes and authenticates Saul Acts 9:10-18

3) Saul at Damascus Jerusalem Tarsus Acts 9:19-30

4) Fourth Repose Period Peter at Lydda and at Joppa Acts 9:39-43

3. Gentile induction; new Christian center, Gentile ANTIOCH, Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:30

1) Gentile Cornelius’s vision Mission to Peter Acts 10:1-30

2) Uncircumcised Christianity sanctioned by Holy Ghost and baptism Acts 10:36-48

3) Peter’s defence for baptizing the uncircumcised Acts 11:1-18

4) The new (Gentile) Christian center formed Antioch Acts 11:19-26

5) Antioch sends a relief deputation to JerusalemActs 11:27-30; Acts 11:27-30

4. Desolation of Jerusalem Church by Herod; its avenging Acts 12:1-25

1) James slain; Peter imprisoned, released; he abandons JerusalemActs 12:1-19; Acts 12:1-19

2) Herod’s judicial death Acts 12:20-23

3) Return of relief deputies from Jerusalem to Antioch Acts 12:24-25



1. Paul’s FIRST MISSION from Antioch, through Cyprus into as far as Lystra and Derbe, thence back to Antioch, Acts 13:1 to Acts 14:28

1) Spirit-commissioned mission from Antioch Paul and Barnabas Acts 13:1-3

2) At Cyprus Elymas, Sergius Paulus at Perga Acts 13:4-13

3) At Pisidian Antioch synagogue address; results Acts 13:14-43

4) Second Sabbath at Pisidian Antioch; Jewish unbelief and Gentile faith Acts 13:44-52

5) At Iconium; at Lystra, revered as gods, then expelled the city Acts 14:1-20

6) From Derbe return by same route to Antioch Acts 14:20-28

2. Jerusalem Council on Circumcision Acts 15:1-34

1) Paul and Barnabas, Peter and James, and elders, all in council Acts 15:1-12

2) James’s opinion; circular letter issued; reception and stay at Antioch Acts 15:12-34

3. Paul’s SECOND MISSION from Antioch, through Syria and Asia Minor, into Europe: namely, in Northern Greece; Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; in Southern Greece; Athens and Corinth; thence back by sea, touching Ephesus, Cesarea, and Jerusalem, to Antioch Acts 15:35 to Acts 18:23

1) Leaves Antioch; strife about Mark; through Syria and Cilicia Acts 15:36-41

2) At Derbe and Lystra; Timothy called; through Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia to Troas Acts 16:1-6

3) Man of Macedonia; at Philippi, Lydia, jailer, First European Church Acts 16:7-40

4) Second European Church, Thessalonica; Third, Berea; Athens Acts 17:1-34

5) Fourth great European Church, Corinth; return by sea to Antioch Acts Acts 18:1-22

4. Paul’s THIRD MISSION, from Antioch, to and from Ephesus, through Greece to Corinth, back by sea past Asian and Syrian coasts to Jerusalem Acts 18:23 to Acts 21:17

1) Leaving Antioch Apollos Acts 18:23-28

2) At Ephesus Twelve John’s disciples Diana, and her Temple Acts 19:1-41

3) Into Southern Greece; thence back, through Macedonia and Troas Acts 20:1-12

4) Ship to Miletus; charge to Ephesian Elders Acts 20:13-38

5) From Miletus to Cesarea Acts 21:1-8

6) Philip and daughters at Cesarea; Agabus; to JerusalemActs 21:8-17; Acts 21:8-17

5. Paul in council with James Arrest Sent to Cesarea Acts 21:18 to Acts 23:35

1) Paul in council with James and elders Acts 21:18-25

2) Paul’s arrest; his rescue by the Romans Acts 21:26-40

3) Paul’s First Defence to his Jerusalemite assailantsActs 22:1-23; Acts 22:1-23

4) Paul and the Chiliarch Acts 22:24-30

5) Paul before Sanhedrin his Second Defence Acts 23:1-9

6) Rescued by Chiliarch and sent to Cesarea Acts 23:10-35

6. Paul two years at Cesarea Acts 24:1 to Acts 26:32

1) Paul before Felix; Third Defence; results Acts 24:1-27

2) Jews, Festus, and Paul the appeal to Cesar Acts 25:1-12

3) Agreement and preparation for speech before Agrippa 13-27

4) Paul’s Fourth Defence that before Agrippa Acts 26:1-32

7. Paul in route for Rome, at Rome Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:31

1) By Adramyttine ship, with adverse winds, to Myra Acts 27:1-5

2) Alexandrine ship, by storm and wreck, to Malta Acts 27:6-44

3) At Malta; from Malta, by Syracuse and Puteoli, to Rome Acts 28:1-16

4) Interview and discussion with Jews at Rome results Acts 28:17-29

5) Roman two-year residenceActs 28:30-31; Acts 28:30-31

The Acts The doings of the Apostles. This title, though older than any existing manuscript, and too early for any trace of its origin, was probably not given by Luke himself. It apparently expresses more than the real amount of the book, since little is said of more than two apostles, namely, Peter, who is the principal figure in the first twelve chapters, and Paul, who is the main subject of the remainder. Two chapters are more strictly the acts of the deacons rather than of the apostles. But as the Gospels could only give the do and teach (v. 1) of Jesus by parts and specimens, (John 21:25,) so this book can give but partial samples of the apostolic acts, of which the doings of the deacons, being under their administration, are in some sense a part. Finally, some good manuscripts, omitting both definite articles, read “Acts of Apostles,” which well fits the book.

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