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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Acts 4

The glorious success of the gospel at Pentecost and for some time afterward could not last. The mighty dragon who had attempted to devour the Christ, who had been "caught up unto God, and unto his throne" (Revelation 12:5), then turned the full strength of his fury against the Woman, that is, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. The inherent hatred of truth and righteousness on the part of the powers of darkness was quickly manifested in the bitter opposition encountered by the apostolic preachers of the gospel. The first move against the church came suddenly.


 
Verse 1
And as they spake unto the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them.

Peter's sermon was interrupted by those inveterate enemies of Christ, the Sadducees, who descended upon the apostles in sufficient strength to stop their preaching and cast them into prison. Significantly, the Pharisees were not a part of the arresting party; and, as Dummelow noted:

It is a mark of historic truth that the chief opposition to the apostles is here assigned to the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection. The Pharisees, who affirmed it, were comparatively friendly; and not a few of them became Christians (Acts 15:5). F1

SADDUCEES

This Jewish sect was composed of proud, secular materialists who denied the existence of a spiritual world, holding that neither angels nor demons existed, denying any such thing as the resurrection, and rejecting the Old Testament Scriptures, except for parts of them which had political utility, and also refusing the traditions of the elders. Through wealth and political power they had gained control of the religious apparatus which ran the temple, the office of the high priest being regularly filled from this group. Their pipe-dream of having silenced forever the claims of Jesus Christ by their wanton murder of him was rudely shattered by the incident recorded in the last chapter. Not only was Christ alive, but he had ascended to the right hand of God, had poured out the marvelous power of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve; and the astounding miracles that had accompanied the personal ministry of Christ were continuing through the apostles who wrought such signs "in the name of" that same Christ!

The captain of the temple ...
This officer was of high rank, coming "from one of the chief-priestly families, ranking next to the high priest, commanding the temple guard of a picked body of Levites," F2 and presumably being the one who commanded the sentries stationed at the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:65ff). More than one man held this rank (Luke 22:4,52); and it is likely that they rotated with one another in the discharge of their official duties. Whichever "captain" was in this arresting party, it is certain that he, as well as all the group, knew for a certainty that the resurrection of Christ had occurred.

Luke's purpose in his unfolding narrative was correctly noted by Harrison:

One of the main purposes of Acts is to show that the Jews who rejected and crucified Jesus continued their rebellion against God by rejecting the gospel of the resurrected and ascended Jesus proclaimed by the apostles. F3

Even the wicked Sadducees, however, were to have an other opportunity to be saved. Their rejection of Christ, although grossly wicked, was not the final rejection; for they could yet have obeyed the gospel and have received the gift of eternal life. As Wesley observed:

So wisely did God order that they should first hear a full testimony to the truth in the temple, and then in the great council; to which they (the apostles) could have had no access, had they not been brought before it as criminals. F4


 
Verse 2
Being sore troubled because they taught the people, and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

Being sorely troubled ...
The word thus rendered occurs only here and in Acts 16:18; and this is an inadequate translation. Alexander Campbell translated it "indignant," F5 far more accurately describing the attitude of the priests. And indeed they must have been indignant. Sure enough, Christ was risen from the dead; and that eventuality foreseen by them (Matthew 27:65) in which "the last error was worse than the first" had truly come to pass. Moreover, the great popularity of the gospel message threatened their political base, promised to hold them up before the people as murderers, as ignoramuses concerning the Holy Scriptures, and as deserving of universal contempt. To proud, arrogant men like themselves, the situation had become intolerable; and their venomous hatred overflowed against the apostles.


 
Verse 3
And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the morrow: for it was now eventide.

As Walker said. "This jailing of the apostles was illegal; no charge was placed against them; it was a highhanded abuse of authority." F6 In the light of this, we should not make too much of the fact that, contrary to the night trial of Jesus, which was also illegal, they did, on this occasion, defer the trial until daytime on the morrow. This was not due to any concern for holy law, but they simply needed time to figure out what they would do.

The unhappiness of the Sadducees over the fact of Jesus' resurrection and the successful proclamation of the gospel was commented upon thus, by Scott:

Miserable is their case to whom the glory of Christ's kingdom is a grief; for, since the glory of that kingdom is everlasting, it follows of course that their grief shall be everlasting also. F7


 
Verse 4
But many of them that heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

That heard the word ...
has "exclusive reference to the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ." F8 This use of "the word" as a designation of the Christian gospel goes back to Christ himself (Matthew 13:23).

Believed ...
As throughout the New Testament, "believed" here stands not as the sole condition of salvation, but as a synecdoche for all the preconditions of redemption in Jesus' name; "This (believed) is a usual scriptural expression for the whole change wrought by belief." F9

About five thousand ...
Some ambiguity exists with regard to understanding the "five thousand" here as inclusive of the three thousand on Pentecost, or as an additional five thousand; but, as Boles said, "The best scholarship is in favor of two thousand being converted on this occasion, and so the number `came to be about five thousand.'" F10

Regarding the time-lapse since Pentecost to the time of this event, it was regarded by Ramsay and others as being perhaps years; but Barnes is most likely correct when he affirmed that: "It is clear that it was at no very distant period." F11


 
Verses 5, 6
And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were the kindred of the high priest.

This august assembly was known as the Sanhedrin, a form of Jewish Supreme Court, composed of the presiding officer, who was the high priest, and seventy others. It was the same body which had demanded and received the crucifixion of Jesus. It was the historical successor to the board of judges appointed by Moses (Numbers 11:16-25).

In Jerusalem ...
The council chamber in which they met was traditionally in the temple; but about A.D. 30, they changed their meeting place "to a court on the east side of the temple mount ... the meeting at the palace of the high priest (Matthew 26:56ff) was irregular." F12

Annas the high priest ...
The critics who make some big thing out of the various references in the New Testament to Caiaphas as high priest, or to Annas as high priest, are only quibbling. Luke denominated both as holders of that office concurrently, "in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas" (Luke 3:2), hence it was altogether correct to refer to either one of them as high priest. The circumstances that brought this condition about are well known. Annas was deposed from his high office by Tiberius in 14 A.D., F13 a penalty incurred through his excess in executing one of his enemies; but the Jews did not honor the Emperor's deposition, still recognizing Annas as the rightful holder of the office; however, Rome controlled the patronage, and the office was rotated among no less than five of Annas' sons, with Caiaphas his son-in-law also holding it for a period of time. His sons who held the office were: "Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias, and Ananus." F14

John ...
in Acts 4:6 is thought by some to have been the same "as Jonathan, son of Annas, and successor to Caiaphas." F15

The record of those who controlled the assembly in view here reveals them to have been the hard cadre of Sadducean priests who sat at the heart of official Jewry. They were as evil and unscrupulous a group as any that may be found in history, fit architects indeed of the crucifixion of the Son of God.


 
Verse 7
And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, By what power, or in what name, have ye done this?

This shows that the Sanhedrin had not been able to formulate any charge against the apostles; therefore the question was to induce them to talk in the hope that they could turn some of their words into an indictment. However, both the worldly antagonist and the holy apostles knew perfectly well why they were there; and Peter at once launched into his message.

Have ye done this ...
Bruce tells us that in the Greek, "There is a scornful emphasis in the position of the pronoun (for "ye") at the end of Acts 4:7, meaning "people like you." F16


 
Verse 8
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders.

Ye rulers of the people ...
Peter's respectful language here teaches the same deference and respect of public officials which are binding upon all Christians; but, as Plumptre noted, there was a marked change in Peter:

A few weeks back he had quailed before the soldiers and servants in the palace of the high priest. But now he stands before the Sanhedrin and speaks in the language of respect ... but also that of unflinching boldness. F17

Regarding the profound and dramatic change discernible in the apostles of Christ which began with the resurrection and was final after Pentecost, Barnes truly declared that "It is not possible to account for this change except on the supposition that this religion is true." F18

Filled with the Holy Spirit ...
Here began to be fulfilled the blessed promise of Jesus to the Twelve that they should not be concerned about what they should say when arraigned before earthly authorities, because the Holy Spirit in that hour would give them the message they were to deliver (Matthew 10:17-19).


 
Verses 9, 10
If we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole.

Peter moved quickly to the attack, charging the Sanhedrin with murdering the Son of God, and affirming that the great miracle in view had been accomplished by the authority of that same Christ whom they had crucified.

In him doth this man stand ...
If we may rely upon the English Revised Version (1885) rendition here, it may be assumed that the man had been baptized into Christ since the miracle was wrought; because the New Testament reveals no other device by which any man was accounted to be "in Christ." See Romans 6:3, 1 Corinthians 12:13, and Galatians 3:27. If this is allowed, and we believe it should be, then Peter's words emphasized the fact of the spreading kingdom and the multiplication of disciples mentioned by Luke a bit earlier (Luke 4:4), This, of course, would have further infuriated the Sadducees.


 
Verse 11
He is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which hath been made the head of the corner.

It is remarkable how true are the speeches of Peter recorded in Acts to the epistles credited to this apostle in the New Testament. Peter had been present when the Lord first used this figure of himself (Matthew 21:42), and he developed the idea further in 1 Peter 2:4-6. For a dissertation on "Christ the Living Stone," see my Commentary on Romans, under Rom. 9:33. Psa. 118:22 has a prophecy of the rejected stone becoming the head of the corner; and it was founded upon an incident connected with the building of the temple. The first stone that came down from the quarry was most complicated, and the builders could not find a place for it. It was dragged into a corner of the building area and in time covered with debris. When the building was completed, there was no cornerstone until someone remembered the rejected stone which fit perfectly. The Sanhedrin were the religious builders who had rejected the head of the corner, Christ; and Peter hurled this charge in their teeth.


 
Verse 12
And in none other is there salvation; for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.

In none other is there salvation ...
As McGarvey wrote:

This declaration is universal; and it shows that every human being who is saved at all will be saved in the name of Christ. If any who do not know him or believe in him are saved, still in some way their salvation will be in his name. F19

Wherein we must be saved ...
Concerning this clause Boles pointed out that:

In the Greek, the "we" is the last word of the Greek sentence; it means, "we priests, elders, scribes, fishermen - all of us" must be saved by faith and obedience in the Christ. F20

Thus, Peter included his wicked judges in those invited to participate in the new life in Christ. The priests, however, rejected the way of salvation taught by Jesus. They were among those such as were mentioned by Walker:

Who imagine themselves so lovely in God's sight, that he simply could not afford to damn them. Such loveliness may be either of character or culture; and both classes of these self-righteous bigots are equally certain that heaven would be impoverished without them. They feel that they need no forgiveness. F21

Peter preached the same plan of salvation to the Sanhedrin which he had proclaimed on Pentecost, and before the Gate Beautiful of the temple; but our own age, no less than that, prefers some other way of salvation. For example:

Daniel Soper, speaking of the crowd whose questions he has sought to answer for so many years, says, (men have) "no time for a religion which confines itself to the work of converting individuals and has nothing authoritative to say about war or unemployment." F22

Soper certainly read the popular mind accurately; but the truth is that the church's business is not concerned with social or political issues at all, except in a peripheral sense. Like Christ himself, the church must teach men regarding the salvation of their souls. Let churches leave the social problems to the government, which can botch them up better than any church could! Loving concern for brothers and sisters in the Lord is taught and is mandatory for Christians; but involvement in the social issues of the times is always, for the church, a sacrifice of first priorities for those which are secondary.

The unique and glorious message of salvation in Jesus' name, through faith and obedience to the gospel, has no parallels.

The study of the history of religion has amassed countless "parallels and analogies" to the message of Jesus ... Yet the more analogies we amass, the clearer it becomes that there are no analogies to the message of Jesus. F23

How precious, how glorious, how past all human ability fully to comprehend it, is the name of Jesus!

The victory has been enshrined in a Name. All the power of the Nazareth victory, and of the Wilderness victory, all the power of the great climax victory of Calvary, and of the Resurrection morning - all is packed into one word, a Name, the Name of Jesus! F24


 
Verse 13
Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

Unlearned and ignorant ...
This "does not refer to their intelligence or literacy but to the fact that they were not schooled in the traditions of the scribes." F25 "IGNORANT should be translated PRIVATE PERSONS." F26 As De Welt said:

Some men are prone to "set at naught all others" as ignorant and unlearned, who have not been trained in just the way and manner they have. From all these things, dear Lord, deliver us! F27

It is the smug and arrogant pride of the Sadducees which surfaces here, there being utterly no reflection upon the intelligence and understanding of those great men who were the apostles of the Son of God. Luke, in this place, was clearly giving not his own evaluation of the Twelve, but that of the Sanhedrin.


 
Verse 14
And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

Had this wonder been performed on the sabbath day, they might have charged the apostles with breaking the sabbath, as they had so often falsely charged the Lord; but Peter's choice of the issue which he would defend was truly inspired. He said, in effect, "I suppose you wish to examine us regarding the good deed which has been done to the impotent man." Such a thesis was truly inspired. There was not a thing which those hypocrites could say against it; therefore, they decided to have a caucus about it.


 
Verses 15, 16
But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, What shall we do to these men? for indeed that a notable miracle hath been wrought through them, is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.

The utter bankruptcy of the Sanhedrin's position is plain in these verses. As Scott said:

We do not find that the council gave any reason why the doctrine of Christ must be suppressed; they could not say that it was either false or dangerous, or of any evil tendency; and they were ashamed to own the true reason, i.e., that it testified against their hypocrisy, wickedness and tyranny. F28

What the Sanhedrin did not do is of epic significance. They did deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a fact Peter had boldly affirmed in their presence; and the conclusion must be allowed that the resurrection of Christ was in the same category as the healing of the impotent man before them. They could not deny it! Can any man believe that those unscrupulous unbelievers would not have denied it if there had been any rational basis under heaven for their doing so?

They conferred among themselves ...
Commentators who raise a question as to how Luke knew what is related here overlook two things, the Holy Spirit's guidance of the inspired evangelist, and (2) the fact that many of the Pharisees obeyed the gospel and had long been faithful Christians at the time of Luke's probable interview of them (6:1; 15:5, etc.). We may be certain that what is here related occurred exactly as it is written. Therefore, it is not necessary, as did Bruce, to suggest that "The decision by the Sanhedrin in the absence of Peter and John would be readily inferred from what they said when Peter and John were brought back." F29

The admissions of the Sanhedrin in these verses "show that in their public proceedings they had been utterly hypocritical and heartless. How they could now look one another in the face is a moral puzzle." F30


 
Verse 17
But that it spread no further among the people, let us threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.

Truth was no consideration to the Sanhedrin. They were determined to oppose the teaching of the apostles, and the best thing they could think of, at the moment, was to threaten them. In view of the weakness of the apostles during the Passion, they might have supposed they could intimidate them. That failing, they were prepared to use methods of violence; but the popularity of the new faith made the murder of the Twelve inexpedient at the moment.


 
Verses 18, 19
And they called them and charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye.

This same Sanhedrin had once hailed the man born blind before their council; and throughout the proceedings the name of Jesus was not mentioned, in all probability because they had forbidden it; but Peter and John had boldly flaunted the name of Jesus before them, and their strategy here was to impose upon the holy apostles the same restriction they had for a while imposed upon the man born blind. The reply of the apostles served fair notice that the old strategy would no longer work. It was a new day, and the gospel of Jesus Christ would be preached if all hell barred the way. Boles said, "The original conveys the idea that they were not to let the name of Jesus pass their lips again;" F31 but these men would persevere unto death, shouting that Jesus is risen from the dead; Jesus is Lord of all; there is salvation in no other name under heaven; Jesus is coming again, etc.


 
Verse 20
We cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard.

This verse proved that "The responsibility of men for their religious opinions is direct to God, and that other men have no power of control." F32 It also indicates that "Men have a right to private judgment in matters of religion, subject only to God." F33


 
Verses 21, 22
And they, when they had further threatened them, let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people; for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was more than forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was wrought.

Further threatened them ...
These were not idle threats. Later, the apostles were arrested and beaten (Acts 5:17-40); and still later, Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the gospel (Acts 6:8-7:60). There is a progression in this inspired history toward that murderous fury which at last signaled official Israel's total rejection of Jesus Christ. For the moment, the popularity of the apostles with the people prevented all but the threats.

Forty years old ...
Luke added this bit of information regarding the age of the man who was healed, making the marvel of the miracle all the greater.


 
Verse 23
And being let go, they came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said unto them.

Having been threatened by the hierarchy, the apostles might have been expected, by those who threatened, to flee from the area; but instead, they, together with the whole Christian community, went to their knees in prayer to Almighty God. No, they would not flee - yet. The battle for the soul of secular Israel would be continued for forty years; THEN the Christians would flee from Jerusalem, and the accumulated wrath of centuries would humble forever that city which rejected Jesus.


 
Verse 24
And they, when they heard it, lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, O Lord, thou that didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is.

The Christians met the crisis through resort to prayer, and the prayer here recorded is remarkable in several particulars.

With one accord ...
This expression occurs eleven times in the Acts, and only once elsewhere in the New Testament (Romans 15:6). F34 It stresses the unity of the Lord's followers, and thus reveals one of the great secrets of the success of Christianity during those first years.

O Lord ...
The holy reverence of prayers recorded in the Bible is notable and, in all ages, a loss of reverence in prayers has proved to be a loss of effectiveness. "Lord" in this place is from the Greek term meaning "Master" (English Revised Version margin); and, coupled with the reference to creation, it has the force of acknowledging God's unlimited power over all that he made. "The church in danger finds support and solace in the thought of God's absolute sovereignty." F35

Thou art he that did make ...
is preferable to the English Revised Version (1885) rendition and is given as a permissible reading in the margin.


 
Verses 25, 26
Who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David thy servant, didst say, Why did the Gentiles rage, And the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, And the rulers were gathered together, Against the Lord, and against his Anointed.

Plainly taught here is the fact that the early disciples regarded the Psalms as inspired; and, to them, inspiration was not mere genius, or literary skill, or prudent foresightedness; it was an impartation of the Holy Spirit which endowed the author of Scripture. Thus his words were true and accurate and his commands authoritative.


 
Verse 27
For of a truth in this city against thy holy Servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel were gathered together.

Thy holy Servant Jesus ...
Certain critics have attempted to deny that Jesus identified himself with the suffering Servant of Isaiah; but, as Hunter declared:

The key to most of the (New Testament) theology is in the Old Testament, especially in the Servant Songs of Isaiah and the seventh chapter of Daniel ... Jesus clearly saw his Messianic ministry from Jordan to Golgotha, as a fulfilling of the prophecies of the Servant of the Lord. F36

Thus, it is no surprise that in the very beginning of the gospel proclamation by the apostles strong emphasis upon the role of Jesus' sufferings should appear.

We find Peter four times in the early chapters of Acts (Acts 3:13,26; 4:27,30) calling Jesus "God's Servant." A little later, Philip expressly tells the Ethiopian eunuch that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isa. 53 (Acts 8:26-40). F37

The fulfillment of the prophecy from Psa. 2:1,2, as quoted in this prayer, is declared by this verse. Herod and Pilate were representatives of kings and rulers who would oppose the Lord, and they were Gentiles. The implication, although not stated so bluntly, is that lhe Jewish religious leaders in the Sanhedrin were representatives of other rulers and of the children of Israel.

Regarding the question of why the mighty men such as rulers and kings and priests would with nearly unanimous hatred of the Christ unite their efforts to oppose and destroy Jesus and his teaching, the reason for it was deeply embedded in human nature. The Jewish rulers were mortified, disgusted and outraged that one so poor and lowly would claim to be the Messiah. Their pride, ambition and selfishness simply could not accept Jesus as the fulfillment of an expectation they had so long cherished of some spectacular leader on a white horse who would overthrow the power of Rome and restore the defunct Solomonic empire. In the case of the Romans, human nature at last turned upon the new faith with the fury of a vicious animal; and, although at first not opposed to Christianity (because they did not understand it), when it finally became clear to Roman authorities that the new religion was not merely seeking a place ALONG WITH OTHER RELIGIONS, but was exclusive in its claims, the Gentile authorities launched the great persecutions in the hope of exterminating Christianity.


 
Verse 28
To do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel foreordained to come to pass.

Perhaps the profoundest question in theology appears in what is stated here. This is the same problem on a cosmic scale that appears in the more limited instance of Judas' fulfilling prophecy by his betrayal of Jesus. Did God's foreordaining such rebellion against his authority become, in any sense, the cause of it? There are mysteries here beyond any complete human understanding of them; but any solution of the problem must take account of the freedom of the human will, either to obey or disobey God. Any resolution of the question that denies such freedom must be rejected.

In the case in hand, God desired the salvation of men through the death of Christ; but it was the wickedness of evil men which became an instrument of the fulfillment. That fact stands in bold relief in this apostolic prayer. God "foreordained" the sufferings and death of the Saviour of the world. We may only bow the head and say with the incomparable Paul, "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out" (Romans 11:33).


 
Verse 29
And now, Lord, look upon their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness.

This is reminiscent of Hezekiah's prayer (2 Kings 19:14ff) in which he spread the insulting letter of Sennacherib before the Lord in the temple, pleading with God "to see and hear the words of Sennacherib." The praying saints did not propose any solution, leaving the matter wholly in the hands of the Lord; but their petition was concerned with their own basic need of power to "speak the word with boldness."


 
Verse 30
While thou stretchest forth thy hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of thy holy Servant Jesus.

This was a petition that God would continue to perform the great signs and wonders such as the healing of the impotent man; but the apostles accurately read the connection between such signs and the preaching of the word; for, in the previous verse, they had prayed first that they themselves should not flinch in the proclamation of the truth.

Holy Servant Jesus ...
See under Acts 4:27, above.


 
Verse 31
And when they had prayed, the place was shaken wherein they were gathered together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

The place ... was shaken ...
God gave this visible sign that his promise of miraculous power to the Twelve would continue to be honored.

Filled with the Holy Spirit ...
This was not a repetition of the wonder at Pentecost, but a continuation in the apostles of that power "from on high" which had been promised, the result of which (their speaking the word with boldness) was also a proof of the purpose of such a gift.


 
Verse 32
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

This is not a reference to another manifestation of the event narrated in Acts 2:43ff, but another reference to that same event, introduced here by Luke as preliminary to the happenings regarding Ananias and Sapphira. The custom of having all things common which began shortly after Pentecost had continued until the time of these events; but Luke's reference to it here sheds new light upon it.

The things which he possessed ...
Thus it is clear that private property had not been abolished. What is taught here is not that the institution of private possessions had been abolished, but that the Christians held their possessions, not as their own, but as subject to the will of God in the use of them for the relief of the needy. "This was an emergency, and all were willing and anxious to use whatever they possessed for the common good." F38 In the fact of the "emergency" mentioned by Boles and so many others, there is a clue suggesting that all of the events mentioned thus far in Acts occurred within a very short space of time after Pentecost; because the most logical reason for any emergency, which is actually inferred rather than plainly stated, lies in the fact that vast throngs in Jerusalem for Pentecost, after obeying the gospel, continued to remain in Jerusalem for a time in order to hear the preaching of the apostles, and perhaps to aid in evangelism. Naturally, such a situation would terminate after a while; and the extreme generosity of the Christians prolonged it as long as possible.


 
Verses 33, 34, 35
And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made to each, according as any one had need.

Great grace was upon them all ...
The result of such overflowing generosity was that the effectiveness of the apostles' message was multiplied, and what might be called a revival of the most fantastic proportions ensued.

Possessors of lands or houses ...
As Lange observed:

We are authorized by the literal import of the text to assume that all the owners of real estate who belonged to the church, sold property, but not that they sold ALL the real estate of which they were the possessors. Each one contributed a certain portion, but it is not said here that each one disposed of his whole property; we are not even distinctly told that a single individual relinquished all that he owned. F39

To each, according as any one had need ...
"This shows that only the needy received anything, and that those who were not needy were the givers." F40 As McGarvey further noted:

This church was not at this time a commune, or a socialistic club, as many interpreters have fancied. There was no uniform distribution of the property of all among the members; neither was the property of all held and administered by the apostles. F41

Upon Luke's first mention of this matter of "all things common". (Acts 2:43), the comment was made that it was the result of no clear commandment of either Christ or the apostles; and while this is true enough, there yet remains the overwhelming impact of this generosity of the first Christians as an example for the church of all ages; and we believe that McGarvey was correct in thus assessing the import of the events here recorded:

In reality this church was setting an example for all other churches in all times, by showing that true Christian benevolence requires that we shall not let our brethren in the church suffer for food, even if those of us who have houses and lands can prevent it only by the sale of our possessions. It teaches that we should share the last crust of bread with our brother. F42

Before leaving this, the comment of Root is noted: "It was not a matter of providing for the whole church, but of supplying the needs of those who lacked." F43

Despite McGarvey's comment, above, it is nevertheless true that the scheme of having all things common was not long continued, nor is there any evidence that it became a policy of the apostolic church. Perhaps, in the event about to be related, Luke intended that we should behold the failure of the experiment. Walker believed that the scheme did not originate with the apostles and that they permitted rather than encouraged it, stating that "the scheme was never tried elsewhere." F44

Ramsay pointed out that:

No universal selling of property is mentioned, and no general instructions were issued that members of the church ought to distribute to the poor all that they possessed ... Many of the owners of property, of their own free will, from love of the brethren, used from time to time to sell their property and bring the proceeds to the apostles. F45


 
Verses 36, 37
And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Exhortation), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

It should be noted that not a word is here given to the effect that Barnabas "sold all that he had," there being no evidence at all that he did any such thing. Then, there is the further consideration that the sister of Barnabas, Mary, the mother of John Mark, appears in Acts 12 as the owner of a large residence in Jerusalem, capable of housing a considerable portion of the church for a prayer meeting, the house having a courtyard and a gate which was attended by the serving girl, Rhoda. It was not the practice of those early disciples to make a total liquidation of their assets in order to distribute all to the poor.

Son of Exhortation ...
contrasts with "Son of Consolation" as in the KJV and the English Revised Version (1885) margin, both meanings being in the original.

Barnabas ...
This was the faithful and distinguished Christian who accompanied Paul on the first missionary journey.

Having related the example of the generosity of Barnabas, Luke would at once relate the story of Ananias and Sapphira and their ill-conceived scheme of imposing upon the Twelve apostles. This incident, about to be narrated in Acts 5, has the utility of shedding even more light on the so-called "Christian communism" of Acts.


Footnotes for Acts 4
1: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 823.
2: F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 95.
3: Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 395.
4: John Wesley, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, n.d.), in loco.
5: Alexander Campbell, Acts of Apostles (Austin: Firm Foundation, 1859), p. 25.
6: W. R. Walker, Studies in Acts (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, n.d.), p. 30.
7: Thomas Scott, The Henry-Scott Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 443.
8: Alexander Campbell, op. cit., p. 25.
9: B. W. Johnson, The New Testament with Explanatory Notes (Delight, Arkansas: The Gospel Light Publishing Company, n.d.), p. 429.
10: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on the Acts (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1953), p. 64.
11: Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), p. 75.
12: Robert Milligan, Analysis of the New Testament (Cincinnati, Ohio: Bosworth, Chase and Hail, Publishers, 1874), p. 325.
13: F. N. Peloubet, Bible Dictionary (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1025), under "Annas."
14: A. C. Hervey, The Pulpit Commentary, Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1950), Vo1. 18, p. 123.
15: John William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 289.
16: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 99.
17: E. H. Plumptre, Elliott's Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 21.
18: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 77.
19: J. W. McGarvey, Commentary on Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1892), p. 72.
20: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 68.
21: R. E. Walker, op. cit., p. 33.
22: Daniel Soper, as quoted by William Barclay, Turning to God (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), p. 102.
23: Joachim Jeremias, translated by Norman Perrin (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), p. 20.
24: J. Hastings, Great Texts of the Bible (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911), Acts and Romans, p. 79.
25: Everett F. Harrison, op. cit., p. 796.
26: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 824.
27: Don DeWelt, Acts Made Actual (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1958), p. 67.
28: Thomas Scott, op. cit, p. 444.
29: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 103.
30: J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 73.
31: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 70.
32: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 83.
33: Ibid., p. 84.
34: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 124.
35: Ibid., p. 125.
36: Archibald M. Hunter, Introducing New Testament Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), p. 23.
37: Ibid., p. 37.
38: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 75.
39: John Peter Lange, Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1866), p. 81.
40: J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 80.
41: Ibid.
42: Ibid., p. 81.
43: Orin Root, Acts (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1966), p. 34.
44: W. R. Walker, op. cit., pp. 36, 37.
45: Sir William M. Ramsay, Pictures of the Apostolic Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 29.
46: Alexander Campbell, op. cit., p. 18.
47: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 64.
48: Alexander Campbell, op. cit., p. 18.
49: As quoted by Campbell, ibid.
50: E. H. Plumptre, The Acts of Apostles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 15.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ac&chapter=004>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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