Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentActs 9
This chapter reveals the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the mighty persecutor (Acts 9:1-19), Paul's first ministry at Damascus, ending in the Jewish plot to kill him (Acts 9:20-25), his journey to Jerusalem and departure for Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30), a brief summary of the continued prosperity of the church (Acts 9:31), and the account of two miracles by Peter, (a) the healing of Aeneas at Lydda (Acts 9:32-35) and (b) the raising of Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-43).
There are a number of interlocking patterns in the book of Acts, one of these being seen in Luke's relating one after another various remarkable examples of individual conversions to Christianity, and another being related to the name "Christian," as it came to be the accepted designation of the members of Christ's body. Thus:
- The "name bearer" of the sacred name was chosen in Acts 9:15.
- The Gentiles, in the person of Cornelius and others, were formally welcomed into the church in Acts 10, this being prophetically revealed as prerequisite to the giving of the "new name" (Isaiah 62:2).
- At the first great Gentile congregation in Antioch, as revealed in Acts 11:26, the disciples were called "Christians".
For further study of the name "Christian," see under Acts 11:26.
Verses 1, 2
But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Regarding the chronological placement of this event, "Saul's journey from Jerusalem to Damascus took place not far from that year which saw the death of Tiberius and the accession of Caligula," F1 that is, in 37 A.D.
We are inclined to be a little surprised at the authority exercised by the Jewish hierarchy in so distant a place as Damascus. Of course, the Sanhedrin "claimed over the Jews in foreign cities the same power, in religious questions, which they exercised at Jerusalem." F2 However, it was the death of Tiberius, leading to a loss of Roman control of Damascus during the reigns of Caligula and Claudia, which made it possible for the arrogant Sanhedrin to pursue their goals with such impunity at that particular time. It is not certainly known just who ruled Damascus during that period, but the eclipse of Roman authority for a time is proved by the fact that no coins with the image of Caligula or Claudius have been discovered there, whereas there have been found many with the image of Augustus or Tiberius who preceded them, and many with the images of emperors who succeeded them, thus leaving a gap, viewed by Wiesler as proof that during those two reigns Rome had no authority in Damascus. F3
The synagogues ...
This indicates a large Jewish population in Damascus. Josephus told how the citizens of Syrian Damascus
Came upon the Jews and cut their
throats, as being in a narrow place,
in number ten thousand, and all of
them unarmed, and this in one hour's
time, without anybody to disturb
Josephus mentioned the same event later, saying that
The barbarous slaughterers of our
people cut the throats of eighteen
thousand Jews, with their wives and
True to their policy of finding contradictions wherever they can, some have insisted that Josephus "contradicted himself," apparently overlooking the fact that the latter figure includes the "wives and children." The point of these numbers is that the Jewish community in Damascus was very large. These massacres took place during the Jewish wars prior to A.D. 70.
Any that were of the Way ...
In Acts, this title of the Christian religion recurs in Acts 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22. This title was explained by Bruce as "a term used by the early Christians to denote their own movement, considered as the way of life or the way of salvation." F6
Threatenings and slaughter ...
Such an expression would hardly have been used if the persecution had resulted in the death of Stephen alone. There were many slain on account of their faith.
And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven.
Calculated by any of the roads that might have been taken to Damascus, the distance was "between 130 and 150 miles, a journey of something like six days." F7 The time of this approach to Damascus was about noon (Acts 22:6); and from this it seems that Saul was pressing man and beast to the limit of endurance in his haste to execute his fury against the Christians. Wesley thought it probable that "they were traveling on foot"; F8 but Howson pointed out that "we do not know how he traveled." Wesley's guess would be supported, it seems, by the fact of Paul's being "led by the hand" (Acts 22:11), which would appear to have been unnecessary if he had been riding a horse.
As Blaiklock noted, "Apart from this one historic incident, Damascus does not again figure in the New Testament." F9 The history of this city is so marvelous, however, that we may be excused if we pause to consider this "oldest city of earth." F10 It was founded before Baalbec and Palmyra and has survived both. Its fame begins with the earliest patriarchs and continues until the present times.
This city existed in prehistoric times (Genesis 14:15); David captured the city (2 Samuel 8:5); Paul the apostle was baptized there; and from it he escaped over the wall in a basket; T.E. Lawrence, whose dramatic revolt ended there, described it as "the sheath for his sword"; but "It was the place where Saul, soon to be Paul, drew his sword (that of the gospel), never to sheathe it again." F11
Of particular interest is that "One of the ancient streets, running northeast to southwest through the city, is still named `Straight Street,' as in Acts 9:11." F12 The fabric damask is derived from the name Damascus, as is also damascene, thus memorializing the skill and ingenuity of the city's craftsmen, who also manufactured the Damascan swords borne by the Crusaders.
As Saul of Tarsus approached that ancient city, he little dreamed that it would be the end of his persecutions of Christ and the beginning of his preaching of the gospel.
And he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
From Paul's later references to this event (Acts 22:14), it is clear that this was an objective vision in which he not only heard but saw the Lord.
Why persecutest thou me? ...
In this appears one of the profoundest doctrines of Christianity, namely, that Christ is still upon earth in the person of his followers who compose his spiritual body; and that whatever is done to Christ's church is done to himself! If Paul had not instantly discerned this, he might have said, "Look, Jesus, I have never even met you before this; I have not harmed you; I am only engaged in killing your disciples!" The deductions from the truth in evidence here are far-reaching and comprehensive:
What is done to the church is done to
Hatred of the church is hatred of
Persecution of the church is
persecution of Christ.
Membership in the church is membership
Liberality toward the church is the
same toward Christ.
Neglect of the church is the neglect
Refusal to belong to the church is a
refusal to belong to Christ.
Regarding the futility and ineffectiveness of persecution as an instrument of opposing the truth, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 5:10-12.
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? and he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
Who art thou, Lord? ...
This is the great question which must engage the mind of every person who would be saved. Angels bend low over the head of any man who earnestly seeks the answer; for it is who Jesus is and was and ever is that endows his holy religion with relevance and authority for all who ever lived.
As Howson declared:
This revelation was not merely an
inward impression made on the mind of
Paul during a trance or ecstasy; but
it was the direct perception of the
visible presence of Christ. F13
Paul asked, "Have I not seen Christ?" (1 Corinthians 9:1); and upon mentioning the appearances to the Twelve, he said, "He was seen last of all by me" (1 Corinthians 15:8). Ananias stated that our Lord "appeared to (Paul) in the way" (Acts 9:17). Thus the New Testament affirms that this was a genuine appearance of Jesus of Nazareth to Saul of Tarsus.
As Bruce said:
The more one studies the event, the
more one agrees with the
eighteenth-century statesman George
Lyttelton, that "the conversion and
apostleship of Paul alone, duly
considered, was of itself a
demonstration sufficient to prove
Christianity to be a divine
But rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
The question Paul asked of Jesus, saying, "What wilt thou have me to do?" is not given here; but the answer to that question is given, and thus there is no doubt that Paul asked it. Taken together, the question and answer here are among the most significant in the New Testament.
Perhaps everyone, at one time or another, has entertained the thought of how wonderful it would be to see the Lord face to face and ask him what to do to be saved. Paul had that privilege here; and what Jesus commanded him to do illuminates all men. The Lord did not ignore the commission he had given his church, nor bypass the preaching of his faithful evangelists on earth, nor pause to give even so important a person as Saul of Tarsus any personal word from heaven on what to do to be saved. Jesus Christ, speaking from the right hand of the Majesty on high, referred the inquiring sinner to the gospel as it would be delivered to him by the faithful preacher Ananias. And when Saul received it, it was the same message Peter had given on Pentecost requiring men to believe, repent and be baptized into Christ.
What thou must do ...
indicates that whatever message Saul would receive would be neither unessential nor optional, but mandatory. In the sequel to this (Acts 22:16) is recorded the ONLY COMMANDMENT recorded in the New Testament as being to Saul. It reads:
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and
be baptized, and wash way thy sins,
calling on his name (Acts 22:16).
In the light of these facts, what an incredible folly is the theological nonsense that would make baptism into Christ either optional or unessential for them who would be saved!
This is a big word in the New Testament; and, for an examination of its application in a number of areas, see my Commentary on Matthew, under Matt. 18:7. In the passage before us it reveals baptism as one of the "musts" regarding salvation, The familiar heresies setting aside this divine "must" should be rejected.
And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but beholding no man.
Paul's account of this as given in Acts 22:9 states that his companions "heard not the voice of him that spake to me," and this is sometimes alleged as a contradiction of what is said here; but it should be noted that the word translated "voice" here may also be rendered "sound" (English Revised Version margin), revealing the meaning to be the same as that in John 12:29, where it was said that the multitudes hearing the voice out of heaven actually heard nothing but the noise, saying, "It thundered"; whereas, in fact, God had spoken audible and understandable words. Exactly the same phenomenon is referred to in Daniel 10:4f, where the account of Daniel's vision by the river Hidekel, which vision he saw, carrying on a conversation with the angel; but the men with him did not see it. Also, it is evident, as Bruce said, that "Luke may very well mean here that it was Paul's voice that his companions heard, although they could neither see nor hear the person whom he seemed to be addressing." F15
With regard to the other well-known pseudocon based upon the words "stood speechless," as here, contrasted with "When we were all fallen to the earth I heard a voice" (Acts 26:14), DeHoff's explanation refutes any allegation that these contradict each other. He wrote:
The expression "stood speechless" has
no reference to posture. One may
stand in doubt, stand firm, stand in
fear, stand speechless, or stand in
awe while in any position of the body.
These "stood speechless" while flat on
the earth. F16
Attempts to make a contradiction here are founded upon an ignorance of idiom as used in every language on earth.
Regarding the awesome fact that some see and hear what others cannot see and hear, Morrison aptly explained it thus: "Ah, it is not the place that makes the difference; it is the heart. `Daniel said, I saw the vision, but the men who were beside me saw it not.'" F17 It was Christ's purpose not to speak to Saul's companions, but to speak to Saul; that all-sufficient will was enough to account for the fact of Saul's hearing though others did not.
Verses 8, 9
And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.
That Saul was temporarily blind following the appearance of Christ to him is clear from the fact of their leading him. What a different status came to him as a result of his blindness; and how utterly unlike his projected entry into Damascus was the entry itself. Not as a savage persecutor, but as a helpless blind man, he entered the city where his life would be changed forever. The emotional shock he received is indicated by his not eating anything for three days.
Verses 10, 11, 12
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth; and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.
These verses describe what was taking place while Saul was in the state described in Acts 9:9.
Jesus had told Saul that it would be
told him what he must do, but he did
not say when Saul would receive that
information. Saul evidently felt that
his sin was so great that he could
only fast and pray ... this state
continued for three days and
Boles supposed that "There had been two simultaneous visions; Saul had received one and Ananias the other." F19 A number of significant things appear in this passage. (1) Regarding what Saul should do to be saved, it was not a preacher of the gospel, but "a certain disciple" who told him. (2) Ananias was evidently a man upon whom the apostles had laid their hands. (3) The miracle of Saul's receiving his sight is equal in every way to the miracle of his being stricken blind. (4) The time-lapse here of three days and nights between Saul's vision of Christ and his baptism is a unique interval. W.B. West stated that "This is the longest interval in the New Testament between the conviction of the sinner and his baptism."
A full understanding of just when Saul was saved depends upon taking into account the three references to this event in Acts, as well as certain passages from the Pauline epistles.
Saul believed, repented and confessed Christ as "Lord" on the Damascus highway; but this did not save him. The Lord commanded that it would be told him what he must do in Damascus. Not only is it true that faith, repentance and confession did not result in his immediate forgiveness; but it is likewise true that even the laying on of the hands of Ananias, three days later, for the purpose of giving him recovery from blindness did not signal the forgiveness of Saul's sins. On the contrary, Ananias said, "Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). Saul, in a sense, of course, was "converted" by the appearance of Christ; but as DeWelt noted:
Saul believed, repented and confessed
Christ as "Lord"; but he was not
forgiven of his sins until he had
risen and was baptized, "washing away"
his sins (Acts 22:16). Conversion
takes place in the sinner's heart, but
forgiveness takes place in the heart
of God. F20
Therefore, conversion in the complete sense of including forgiveness must include not merely faith, repentance and confession, but baptism also. Paul himself made this abundantly clear in this passage:
Whereas ye were the servants of sin,
ye became obedient from the heart to
that form of teaching whereunto ye
were delivered; and being then made
free from sin, ye became the servants
of righteousness (Romans 6:17,18; 6:17,18 ).
For further discussion of this, see my Commentary on Romans, under Rom. 6:17.
Verses 13, 14
But Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name.
The astonishment and reluctance of Ananias are understandable. The saints in Jerusalem had sent information ahead to Damascus regarding the ravages of the Lord's church by Saul of Tarsus; and it is significant that the believing community in Damascus had accurate advance information of what could be expected when Saul arrived there.
Verses 15, 16
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake.
Before Gentiles and kings ...
There is no way to separate these words from the great prophecy of Isaiah regarding the new name to be borne by God's children.
And the Gentiles shall see thy
righteousness, and all kings thy
glory: and thou shalt be called by a
new name, which the mouth of the Lord
shall name (Isaiah 62:2).
Thus, Paul was specifically named in this passage, upon the occasion of his baptism, as the name-bearer of the new name that God would give unto his people. See under Acts 11:26.
And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Brother Saul ...
By way of anticipation, Ananias, out of respect to what the Lord had revealed to him, referred to Saul as "brother," not merely a "brother Israelite" but as a brother in Christ.
Receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit ...
Saul received his sight immediately upon the imposition of Ananias' hands; and, through the same instrumentality of Ananias who commanded him to be baptized, he received the Holy Spirit. The gift in view here is the same as that promised on Pentecost to all who repented and were baptized (Acts 2:38). That Saul did not receive the Holy Spirit before his baptism is implicit in the fact that the latter was necessary to the "washing away" of his sins (Acts 22:16).
Verses 18, 19
And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.
This expression makes it mandatory to understand Saul's blindness as the physical loss of his sight, a fact further proved by the necessity of his companions leading him into Damascus (Acts 9:8). "To say then that Ananias was sent to Saul to give him his spiritual sight is an absurdity." F21
The significance of two clauses here is vital. This verse does not say that Saul received his sight and received the Holy Spirit, but that he received his sight and arose and was baptized, indicating that the gift of the Holy Spirit followed his baptism.
Verses 20, 21, 22
And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus. And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God. And all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he that in Jerusalem made havoc of them that called on this name? and he had come hither to this intent, that he might bring them bound before the chief priests. But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews that dwelt in Damascus, proving that this is the Christ.
This paragraph reveals the basic fundamental of Christianity, namely, that Jesus is the Christ of God. This was the first message of the converted persecutor, and his last one this being the note that dominated his preaching throughout the noble career that began here.
Regarding the length of time during which Paul thus continued to preach in Damascus, see under the following verse. Also, it is not certain whether this paragraph speaks of events before or after Paul's trip to Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Paul stated that he returned to Damascus after his sojourn in Arabia; and it is likely that his preaching of the gospel was the same on both occasions, whether before he left for Arabia or upon his return to Damascus. However, because of his confounding the Jews (Acts 9:22), and Luke's immediate mention of the plot to kill him (Acts 9:23), the above paragraph is usually associated with the latter occasion of his ministry in Damascus.
And when many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel together to kill him.
When many days were fulfilled ...
It is obvious that Luke did not here stress the exact chronology of the events narrated. Boles gave, as the probable chronology of the events in view here, the following:
Saul was struck down on the Damascus
road (Acts 9:3-8).
Three days of blindness and prayer
Sight restored, baptized and received
the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:10-19).
Preached Christ and confounded the
Jews (Acts 9:19-22).
Made a sudden departure to Arabia for
further study and communion with God
Came back to Damascus and renewed his
preaching with such force that the
Jews decided to kill him (Acts 9:23).
(This was three years after his
The plot to kill Paul was discovered,
and he escaped to Jerusalem
The Christians were afraid of him
Barnabas took up his cause and
recommended him (Acts 9:27-29).
Paul began preaching where Stephen
left off (Acts 9:29).
There was another plot to kill him
The Jerusalem church sent him to
Tarsus (Acts 9:30). F22
Verses 24, 25
But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates also day and night that they might kill him: but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket.
The mighty preaching of the erstwhile persecutor should have been enough to convert all who heard him. As Lange said:
The miracle Christ performed upon the
mind of such a man outshone the
miracle upon men's bodies; giving such
a man another heart was more than
giving men to speak with other
And yet, far from converting all who heard, Saul's preaching only confirmed the desire of some who heard him to take away his life. This is proof enough that evidence alone cannot convert any man. Prior to salvation, there must be, on the part of one who is to receive it, "an honest and a good heart" (Luke 8:15), as our Lord himself declared.
It is also evident in this passage that one who faithfully follows the teachings of Christ is certain to encounter hostility and outright hatred.
Through the wall in a basket ...
Paul expressly tells us that "the ethnarch kept watch over the city with a garrison, purposing to apprehend him" (2 Corinthians 11:32); and, incidentally, this indicates that Rome did not control Damascus at that time. The ethnarch was the governor of the city appointed by Aretus, whose daughter was Herod's wife whom he forsook for Herodias. Howson reasoned that:
From an unguarded portion of the wall,
in the darkness of the night, probably
where some overhanging houses, as is
usual in Eastern cities, opened upon
the outer country, they let him down
from a window in a basket. F24
And when he was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.
Dummelow thought it strange "that after his arduous work in Damascus, the church of Jerusalem should still doubt the fact of Paul's conversion"; F25 but it was doubtless due to the lack of adequate communications in those days, and also to the reluctance of those Christians whose loved ones and friends had been imprisoned, scourged, and even put to death by Saul of Tarsus, to believe that his conversion was sincere. The more remarkable thing, it seems to this writer, is that there was found one, the noble Barnabas, who dared to believe it fully and to undertake his recommendation to the whole church.
Assayed to join himself ...
As noted earlier, such an expression as this makes "joining the church" a legitimate concept, provided the uniting with a given congregation is understood by it.
But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken unto him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
We may never know until the judgment day how much is owed by all men to the loving trust of Barnabas, not merely for his advocating the case of Saul of Tarsus here, but also for his advocating that of John Mark, whom Paul was so ready to reject, following that defection of the young Mark in Perga of Pamphylia (Acts 13:13; 15:38,39). All that is revealed of Barnabas in the New Testament justifies the affirmation that he was a good man full of wisdom and of the Holy Spirit. In his espousal of Paul's sincerity in this episode, there is an illustration of the truth that it is better to trust than to distrust; it is better to believe the best of men than it to believe the worst of them.
Verses 28, 29, 30
And he was with them going in and going out of Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord: and he spake and disputed against the Grecian Jews; but they were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
In the purpose of the all-wise God, Paul the apostle was not destined to be accepted in Jerusalem; rather his was a call to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. Therefore the circumstance of the hatred which naturally arose against Paul in Jerusalem was not removed by the Father, but was made the occasion of sending him to Tarsus.
We should not pass this by, however, without noting the dauntless courage of Paul. Jerusalem was the city where he had led the persecutions against the church; there he had stood consenting to the death of Stephen; there he was acquainted with those implacable foes of the Lord and of his kingdom who had formerly been his allies, friends, and fellow-persecutors. He knew their bitterness and their unwavering hatred of Christianity; and yet, to that city, before those people, and in the presence of those very same individuals, he boldly and unequivocally preached the gospel of the Son of God. For sheer courage, history has nothing at all to compare with this.
To Caesarea ...
This city figured prominently in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul.
This magnificent city was built by Herod the Great on the site of Strato's Tower, and was located on the Mediterranean shore, some 23 miles south of Mount Carmel and 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Ludlow pointed out that Palestine had no adequate seaport until this city was built. God's purpose of containment for the chosen people in Palestine was served by the fact that no seaport existed during the greater part of Israel's history. But when, in the fullness of time, God had at last brought into the world his glorious Son, and at a time following the conquest of the whole world by Alexander, and the establishment of a single language, known and understood all over the world; after those events, and after the Christ had suffered on Calvary and the gospel was ready to be preached to all men, God had but lately made ready the marvelous harbor of Caesarea as a portal by which the word would travel to the ends of the earth. Note this:
Paul, the great apostle to the
Gentiles, found this to be his port of
departure from Jerusalem, his port of
landing on his return from both the
second and third missionary journeys;
and here his fateful decision to visit
Jerusalem was made (Acts 21:13); here
he was tried before Felix (Acts 23:23ff);
here he suffered imprisonment for two
whole years; and here was his defense
before Festus and Agrippa. It was here
that he appealed unto Caesar. F26
Many other important events in the New Testament are likewise associated with Caesarea. It was the home of Cornelius (Acts 10:1); here Peter baptized Cornelius the Gentile and all his house; here a king was destroyed by an avenging angel (Acts 12:1ff); and here Philip the evangelist with his family labored in the spread of the gospel (Acts 21:8f). Also, it is extremely probable that it was here that Luke made his base of investigation while Paul was imprisoned, and while Luke did the research leading to the precious gospel that bears his name. Apart from Jerusalem itself, Caesarea may well be accounted the most important New Testament city, certainly one of the most important.
Caesarea was the residence of Roman procurators, a strongly garrisoned town with a military presence numbering at least 3,000, and by far the key city in Rome's relationship with Palestine. In fact Tacitus said, "Caesarea is the capital of Judaea." F27
So the church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, was multiplied.
See under Acts 6:7 for other examples of Luke's device of pausing at intervals to record the growth and prosperity of the church, thus giving several reminders of his grand design of showing how Christianity developed and spread to the whole world. It could be, also, that Luke intended that we should see the connection between this period of relative tranquillity and the departure of Paul, just mentioned. Such was the fury and bitterness of the Jewish community over the defection of one of their most able partisans, that they could hardly have suffered Paul's presence in Jerusalem without continued persecution; but, in his absence, there appeared for a while a period of quietness during which the church grew and prospered.
In time, of course, Paul would return, speaking his epic words of wisdom and judgment against Israel; but for the present he would be left out of sight in Tarsus. In the meanwhile, Luke returned to stress two apostolic miracles performed by Peter, and which mighty signs contributed emphatically to the growth of the church.
PETER HEALS AENEAS
Luke's purpose here is evidently that of showing how the apostles continued to preach the gospel in Judaea and Samaria and Galilee, these provinces actually being part of Palestine. It comes to light here that Peter had traveled and preached along the whole seacoast of Palestine in some of the same cities evangelized by Philip. As Harrison said:
Peter found in Lydda a group of
Christians who had probably fled there
in the dispersion caused by the
persecution in Jerusalem. Here Peter
healed Aeneas. This area was
populated in part by Gentiles. F28
And it came to pass, as Peter went throughout all parts, he came down also to the saints that dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had kept his bed eight years; for he was palsied. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ healeth thee: arise and make thy bed. And straightway he arose. And all that dwelt at Lydda and in Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
Azotus, Gaza, Lydda and Sharon were all cities along the Mediterranean coast; and both Philip and the apostle Peter bestowed labor upon this coastal region. The mention of healing Aeneas shows that God was honoring the promise of Jesus that mighty signs should follow the preaching of the apostles "confirming the word" (Mark 16:17ff). The healing of a person so long an invalid was soon widely known and published with a result that many turned to the Lord.
PETER RAISES THE DEAD
Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.
This city too belonged to the group mentioned under the preceding verse, being in fact the nearest thing to a good natural seaport belonging to Palestine; but its importance had been eclipsed by Caesarea. The Christian community here had doubtless begun in the same way as that of Lydda.
This is the Greek form of Tabitha; and the word means "little gazelle," "fawn," or "a roe." From this word, "Dorcas Societies" in many places have been named being societies formed to sew for the poor.
And it came to pass in those days, that she fell sick, and died: and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper chamber.
The sad scene which emerges here was one of grief on the part of the whole Christian community for the death of the "little gazelle" whose flying fingers had so often labored for the relief of human want and distress.
The upper chamber ...
There were many Christian recollections of an "upper chamber"; but in this there appeared a new dimension. Even the devout and faithful Dorcas had not proved to be immune to the ravages of death; and as her decease was the first to be recorded of any Christian who died of natural causes, it was appropriate that God should take note of it with a purpose of encouraging and strengthening his church; and so it proved to be. Just as in the case of the first martyr, there had occurred phenomena of the utmost value to believers in all ages, so it was to be here. It may be that the Christians sensed this, as indicated by their next move.
And, as Lydda was nigh unto Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men unto him, entreating him, Delay not to come on unto us.
It is not related here what the disciples expected Peter to do; but that something was expected is implicit in the fact and manner of their appeal. Certainly, it would seem that they did not seek Peter's presence for the purpose of conducting the funeral.
And Peter arose and went with them. And when he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she with with them.
All the widows ...
And who might these have been if not members of that same class to which Dorcas belonged; and in this is a clue to the fact that "the little gazelle" might also have been a widow, and that the other widows who joined so spontaneously in the mourning were her friends and fellow-workers in the charities to which Dorcas had made such extensive contributions.
Significant in this passage is the "remembering" that features the death of every person. Death is a time of remembering the deeds, words and achievements of the departed. How happy are they whose demise is an occasion for remembering what was done on behalf of others, especially of the poor and needy, as was the case with Dorcas. For the unfaithful, death is a time of remembering things melancholy, pathetic and tragic; but, from the very times described here, the Christians sorrowed not as those who have no hope.
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and, turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter she sat up.
Peter had been well schooled at the feet of the Master. Just as our Lord had done when Jairus' daughter was raised, Peter cleared the room. He went down upon his knees; and from this is a legitimate inference that in this also he emulated the action of the Master, because it is clear enough from John's gospel that all of Jesus' miracles were wrought in answer to prayer. Peter used the very words that Jesus had used, except for substituting the name of Tabitha, the word "Tabitha, arise" being quite similar to "Damsel, I say unto thee arise" (Mark 5:41). The wonder of wonders is that God in heaven answered the prayer of the faithful apostle, and Dorcas was recalled from the dead. Not only does this mighty sign bear a validity and relevance in its own right; but it is also, in context, a corroborative thunder echoing the events in the house of Jairus, before the gates of Nain, and at the tomb of Lazarus!
And he gave her his hand, and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.
See under preceding verse.
And it became known throughout all Joppa; and many believed on the Lord.
The result of the raising of Dorcas was exactly the result of the raising of Lazarus, of which the Pharisees said, "Behold ... the world is gone after him" (John 12:11,19). The Lord was working with his apostles as he had promised in Mark 16:17ff.
And it came to pass, that he abode many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.
Luke did not relate exactly how long Peter continued to preach and spread the gospel in Joppa, his success being greatly augmented by the event of Dorcas being raised from the dead. The mention of the man with whom Peter made his home at Joppa was perhaps for the double purpose of showing (1) that a tanner was not considered beyond redemption, thus nullifying a Jewish concept which stressed the perpetual defilement of tanners because of their working continually with dead bodies, or portions of dead bodies; and (2) also for the sake of its bearing upon the event next to be related in Acts 10.
Footnotes for Acts 9
1: E. S. Howson, Life and Letters of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publisher, 1966), p. 68.
2: Ibid., p. 67.
3: Ibid., p. 68.
4: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities and Wars of the Jews, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 703.
5: Ibid., p. 853.
6: F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 194.
7: E. M. Blaiklock, Cities of the Old Testament (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1965), p. 13.
8: John Wesley, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House), in loco.
9: E. M. Blaiklock, op. cit., p. 17.
10: E. H. Howson, op. cit., p. 71.
11: E. M. Blaiklock, op. cit., p. 16.
12: New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1962), p. 288.
13: J. S. Howson, op. cit., p. 75.
14: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 196.
15: Ibid., p. 197.
16: George DeHoff, Alleged Contradictions in the Bible (Murfreesboro, Tennessee: George DeHoff Publications, 1970), p. 230.
17: G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning (London: Hodder and Stoughton), p. 147.
18: Don DeWelt, Acts Made Actual (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1958), p. 124.
19: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Acts (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1953), p. 145.
20: Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 123.
22: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 149.
23: John Peter Lange, Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1866), p. 465.
24: E. S. Howson, op. cit, p. 83.
25: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 831.
26: New Bible Dictionary, op. cit., p. 174.
27: E. M. Blaiklock, op. cit., p. 74.
28: Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 418.
29: F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1950) p. 181.
30: Ibid, p. 182.
31: J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 142.
32: Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 412.
33: Joseph Benson, op. cit., in loco.
34: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 142.
35: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 184.
36: Thomas Scott, The Henry-Scott Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 461.
37: E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 49.
38: J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 148.
39: Don DeWelt, op. cit., p. 112.
40: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 188.
43: E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 53.
44: A. C. Hervey, op. cit., p. 162.
45: John Peter Lange, op. cit., p. 101.
46: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 825.
47: John William Russell, op. cit. p. 295.
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.