Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the
disciples of the Lord, &c.--The emphatic "yet" is intended to note
the remarkable fact, that up to this moment his blind persecuting rage
against the disciples of the Lord burned as fiercely as ever. (In the
teeth of this, NEANDER and
OLSHAUSEN picture him deeply impressed with
Stephen's joyful faith, remembering passages of the Old Testament
confirmatory of the Messiahship of Jesus, and experiencing such a
violent struggle as would inwardly prepare the way for the designs of
God towards him. Is not dislike, if not unconscious disbelief, of
sudden conversion at the bottom of this?) The word "slaughter" here
points to cruelties not yet recorded, but the particulars of which are
supplied by himself nearly thirty years afterwards: "And I persecuted
this way unto the death"
"and when they were put to death, I gave my voice [vote] against
them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to
[did my utmost to make them] blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad
against them, I persecuted them even unto strange [foreign] cities"
(Ac 26:10, 11).
All this was before his present journey.
2. desired . . . letters--of authorization.
to Damascus--the capital of Syria and the great highway between
eastern and western Asia, about one hundred thirty miles northeast of
Jerusalem; the most ancient city perhaps in the world, and lying in the
center of a verdant and inexhaustible paradise. It abounded (as appears
from JOSEPHUS, Wars of the Jews, 2.20,2) with Jews, and with Gentile
proselytes to the Jewish faith. Thither the Gospel had penetrated; and
Saul, flushed with past successes, undertakes to crush it out.
that if he found any of this way, whether men or women--Thrice are
women specified as objects of his cruelty, as an aggravated feature
(Ac 8:3; 22:4;
3. he came near Damascus--so
Tradition points to a bridge near the city as the spot referred to.
Events which are the turning points in one's history so imprint
themselves upon the memory that circumstances the most trifling in
themselves acquire by connection with them something of their
importance, and are recalled with inexpressible interest.
suddenly--At what time of day, it is not said; for artless simplicity
reigns here. But he himself emphatically states, in one of his
narratives, that it was "about noon"
and in the other, "at midday"
when there could be no deception.
there shined round about him a light from heaven--"a great light (he
himself says) above the brightness of the sun," then shining in its full
4-6. he fell to the earth--and his companions with him
who "saw the light"
and heard a voice saying unto him--"in the Hebrew tongue"
Saul, Saul--a reduplication full of tenderness [DE
his name was soon changed into "Paul," we find him, in both his own
narratives of the scene, after the lapse of so many years, retaining the
original form, as not daring to alter, in the smallest detail, the
overpowering words addressed to him.
why persecutest thou me?--No language can express the affecting
character of this question, addressed from the right hand of the Majesty
on high to an infuriated, persecuting mortal. (See
and that whole judgment scene).
5. Who art thou, Lord?--"Jesus knew Saul ere Saul knew Jesus"
The term "Lord" here is an indefinite term of respect for some unknown
but august speaker. That Saul saw as well as heard this glorious
Speaker, is expressly said by Ananias
(Ac 9:17; 22:14),
and by himself
and in claiming apostleship, he explicitly states that he had
"seen the Lord"
(1Co 9:1; 15:8),
which can refer only to this scene.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest--The "I" and "thou" here are
touchingly emphatic in the original; while the term "JESUS"
chosen, to convey to him the thrilling information that the hated name
which he sought to hunt down--"the Nazarene," as it is in
--was now speaking to him from the skies, "crowned with glory and
It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks--The metaphor of an
ox, only driving the goad deeper by kicking against it, is a classic
one, and here forcibly expresses, not only the vanity of all his
measures for crushing the Gospel, but the deeper wound which every such
effort inflicted upon himself.
6. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have
me to do? And the Lord said--(The most ancient manuscripts and
versions of the New Testament lack all these words here [including
the last clause of
but they occur in
and Ac 22:10,
from which they appear to have been inserted here). The question, "What
shall I do, Lord?" or, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" indicates
a state of mind singularly interesting (see on
Its elements seem to be these: (1) Resistless conviction that "Jesus
whom he persecuted," now speaking to him, was "Christ the Lord." (See
Ga 1:15, 16).
(2) As a consequence of this, that not only all his religious views,
but his whole religious character, had been an entire mistake; that he
was up to that moment fundamentally and wholly wrong. (3) That though
his whole future was now a blank, he had absolute confidence in Him who
had so tenderly arrested him in his blind career, and was ready both to
take in all His teaching and to carry out all His directions. (For
more, see on
Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee,
7. the men . . . stood speechless--This may mean
merely that they remained so; but if the standing posture be
intended, we have only to suppose that though at first they "all fell
to the earth"
they arose of their own accord while Saul yet lay prostrate.
hearing a--rather "the"
voice--Paul himself says, "they heard not the voice of Him that spake
But just as "the people that stood by heard" the voice that
saluted our Lord with recorded words of consolation and assurance, and
yet heard not the articulate words, but thought "it thundered"
or that some "angel spake to Him"
(Joh 12:28, 29)
--so these men heard the voice that spake to Saul, but heard not
the articulate words. Apparent discrepancies like these, in the
different narratives of the same scene in one and the same book of
Acts, furnish the strongest confirmation both of the facts themselves
and of the book which records them.
8. Saul arose . . . and when his eyes were opened, he saw
no man--after beholding the Lord, since he "could not see for the
glory of that light"
he had involuntarily closed his eyes to protect them from the glare;
and on opening them again he found his vision gone. "It is not said,
however, that he was blind, for it was no punishment" [BENGEL].
9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor
drink--that is, according to the Hebrew mode of computation:
he took no food during the remainder of that day, the entire day
following, and so much of the subsequent day as elapsed before the
visit of Ananias. Such a period of entire abstinence from food, in that
state of mental absorption and revolution into which he had been so
suddenly thrown, is in perfect harmony with known laws and numerous
facts. But what three days those must have been! "Only one other space
of three days' duration can be mentioned of equal importance in the
history of the world" [HOWSON]. Since Jesus had
been revealed not only to his eyes but to his soul
Ga 1:15, 16),
the double conviction must have immediately flashed upon him, that his
whole reading of the Old Testament hitherto had been wrong, and that
the system of legal righteousness in which he had, up to that moment,
rested and prided himself was false and fatal. What materials these
for spiritual exercise during those three days of total darkness,
fasting, and solitude! On the one hand, what self-condemnation, what
anguish, what death of legal hope, what difficulty in believing that in
such a case there could be hope at all; on the other hand, what
heartbreaking admiration of the grace that had "pulled him out of the
fire," what resistless conviction that there must be a purpose of love
in it, and what tender expectation of being yet honored, as a chosen
vessel, to declare what the Lord had done for his soul, and to spread
abroad the savor of that Name which he had so wickedly, though
ignorantly, sought to destroy--must have struggled in his breast during
those memorable days! Is it too much to say that all that profound
insight into the Old Testament, that comprehensive grasp of the
principles of the divine economy, that penetrating spirituality, that
vivid apprehension of man's lost state, and those glowing views of the
perfection and glory of the divine remedy, that beautiful ideal of the
loftiness and the lowliness of the Christian character, that large
philanthropy and burning zeal to spend and be spent through all his
future life for Christ, which distinguish the writings of this chiefest
of the apostles and greatest of men, were all quickened into life
during those three successive days?
10-16. a certain disciple . . . named Ananias--See on
to him said the Lord--that is, Jesus. (See
Ac 9:13, 14, 17).
11. go into the street . . . called Straight--There is still a street
of this name in Damascus, about half a mile in length, running from east
to west through the city [MAUNDRELL].
and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus--There
is something touching in the minuteness of these directions. Tarsus was
the capital of the province of Cilicia, lying along the northeast coast
of the Mediterranean. It was situated on the river Cydnus, was a "large
and populous city" (says XENOPHON, and see
and under the Romans had the privilege of self-government.
behold, he prayeth--"breathing out" no longer "threatenings and
slaughter," but struggling desires after light and life in the
Persecuted One. Beautiful note of encouragement as to the frame in which
Ananias would find the persecutor.
12. And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias, &c.--Thus, as in
the case of Cornelius and Peter afterwards, there was a mutual
preparation of each for each. But we have no account of the vision which
Saul had of Ananias coming unto him and putting his hands upon him for
the restoration of his sight, save this interesting allusion to it in
the vision which Ananias himself had.
13. Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man,
&c.--"The objections of Ananias, and the removal of them by the Lord,
display in a very touching manner the childlike relation of the
believing soul to its Redeemer. The Saviour speaks with Ananias as a man
does with his friend" [OLSHAUSEN].
how much evil he hath done to thy saints--"Thy saints," says
Ananias to Christ; therefore Christ is God [BENGEL]. So, in
Ananias describes the disciples as "those that called on Christ's
name." See on
Ac 7:59, 60;
14. here he hath authority, &c.--so that the terror not only of the
great persecutor's name, but of this commission to Damascus, had
travelled before him from the capital to the doomed spot.
15. Go thy way--Do as thou art bidden, without gainsaying.
he is a chosen vessel--a word often used by Paul in illustrating
God's sovereignty in election
2Ti 2:20, 21
16. I will show him--(See
Ac 20:23, 24; 21:11).
how great things he must suffer for my name--that is, Much he has
done against that Name; but now, when I show him what great things he
must suffer for that Name, he shall count it his honor and privilege.
17-19. Ananias went his way, and putting his hands on him, said,
Brother Saul--How beautifully childlike is the obedience of Ananias
to "the heavenly vision!"
the Lord, even Jesus--This clearly shows in what sense the term
"Lord" is used in this book. It is JESUS that is meant, as almost
invariably in the Epistles also.
who appeared unto thee in the way--This knowledge by an inhabitant
of Damascus of what had happened to Saul before entering it, would show
him at once that this was the man whom Jesus had already prepared him to
and be filled with the Holy Ghost--which Ananias probably, without
any express instructions on that subject, took it for granted would
descend upon him; and not necessarily after his baptism [BAUMGARTEN,
WILKINSON]--for Cornelius and his company received it before
--but perhaps immediately after the recovery of his sight by the laying
on of Ananias' hands.
18. there fell from his eyes as it were scales--"This shows that the
blindness as well as the cure was supernatural. Substances like scales
would not form naturally in so short a time" [WEBSTER and
And the medical precision of Luke's language here is to be noted.
was baptized--as directed by Ananias
19. when he had received meat, he was strengthened--for the
exhaustion occasioned by his three days' fast would not be the less
real, though unfelt during his struggles. (See on
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples at Damascus--making their
acquaintance, in another way than either he or they had anticipated, and
regaining his tone by the fellowship of the saints; but not certainly in
order to learn from them what he was to teach, which he expressly
(Ga 1:12, 16).
20-22. preached Christ . . . that he is the Son of
God--rather, "preached Jesus," according to all the most ancient
manuscripts and versions of the New Testament (so
"all that call on this name," that is, Jesus; and
"proving that this Jesus is very Christ").
23. And after many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to
kill him--Had we no other record than this, we should have
supposed that what is here related took place while Saul continued at
Damascus after his baptism. But in
Ga 1:17, 18
we learn from Paul himself that he "went into Arabia, and returned
again unto Damascus," and that from the time of his first visit to the
close of his second, both of which appear to have been short, a period
of three years elapsed; either three full years, or one full year
and part of two others. (See on
That such a blank should occur in the Acts, and be filled up in
Galatians, is not more remarkable than that the flight of the Holy
Family into Egypt, their stay there, and their return thence, recorded
only by Matthew, should be so entirely passed over by Luke, that if we
had only his Gospel, we should have supposed that they returned to
Nazareth immediately after the presentation in the temple. (Indeed in
one of his narratives,
Ac 22:16, 17,
Paul himself takes no notice of this period). But wherefore this
journey? Perhaps (1) because he felt a period of repose and partial
seclusion to be needful to his spirit, after the violence of the change
and the excitement of his new occupation. (2) To prevent the rising
storm which was gathering against him from coming too soon to a head.
(3) To exercise his ministry in the Jewish synagogues, as opportunity
afforded. On his return, refreshed and strengthened in spirit, he
immediately resumed his ministry, but soon to the imminent hazard of
24, 25. they watched the gates night and day to kill him--The full
extent of his danger appears only from his own account
"In Damascus, the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the
Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me"; the exasperated
Jews having obtained from the governor a military force, the more surely
to compass his destruction.
25. Then the disciples . . . by night let him
down--"through a window"
by the wall--Such overhanging windows in the walls of Eastern cities
were common, and are to be seen in Damascus to this day.
26. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem--"three years after" his
conversion, and particularly "to see Peter"
no doubt because he was the leading apostle, and to communicate to him
the prescribed sphere of his labors, specially to "the Gentiles."
he assayed to join himself to the disciples--simply as one of them,
leaving his apostolic commission to manifest itself.
they were all afraid of him, &c.--knowing him only as a persecutor
of the faith; the rumor of his conversion, if it ever was cordially
believed, passing away during his long absence in Arabia, and the news
of his subsequent labors in Damascus perhaps not having reached them.
27. But Barnabas . . . brought him to the apostles--that is, to Peter
and James; for "other of the apostles saw I none," says he fourteen
(Ga 1:18, 19).
Probably none of the other apostles were there at the time
Barnabas being of Cyprus, which was within a few hours' sail of
Cilicia, and annexed to it as a Roman province, and Saul and he being
Hellenistic Jews and eminent in their respective localities, they may
very well have been acquainted with each other before this [HOWSON]. What is here said of Barnabas is in fine
consistency with the "goodness" ascribed to him
and with the name "son of consolation," given him by the apostles
and after Peter and James were satisfied, the disciples generally would
at once receive him.
how he had seen the Lord . . . and he--the Lord.
had spoken to him--that is, how he had received his commission direct
from the Lord Himself.
28, 29. And he was with them, coming in and going out at Jerusalem--for
fifteen days, lodging with Peter
29. disputed against the Grecians--(See on
addressing himself specially to them, perhaps, as being of his own
class, and that against which he had in the days of his ignorance been
they went about to slay him--Thus was he made to feel, throughout his
whole course, what he himself had made others so cruelly to feel,
the cost of discipleship.
30. they brought him down to Cæsarea--on the coast (see on
accompanying him thus far. But Paul had another reason than his own
apprehension for quitting Jerusalem so soon. "While he was praying in
the temple, he was in a trance," and received express injunctions to
this effect. (See on
and sent him forth to Tarsus--In
he himself says of this journey, that he "came into the regions of
Syria and Cilicia"; from which it is natural to infer that instead of
sailing direct for Tarsus, he landed at Seleucia, travelled thence to
Antioch, and penetrated from this northward into Cilicia, ending his
journey at Tarsus. As this was his first visit to his native city since
his conversion, so it is not certain that he ever was there again.
It probably was now that he became the instrument of gathering into the
fold of Christ those "kinsmen," that "sister," and perhaps her "son,"
of whom mention is made in
&c.; Ro 16:7, 11, 21
STATE OF THE
31. Then had all the churches rest--rather, "the Church," according
to the best manuscripts and versions. But this rest was owing not so
much to the conversion of Saul, as probably to the Jews being engrossed
with the emperor Caligula's attempt to have his own image set up in the
temple of Jerusalem [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 18.8.1, &c.].
throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria--This incidental notice
of distinct churches already dotting all the regions which were the
chief scenes of our Lord's ministry, and that were best able to test the
facts on which the whole preaching of the apostles was based, is
extremely interesting. "The fear of the Lord" expresses their holy
walk; "the comfort of the Holy Ghost," their "peace and joy in
believing," under the silent operation of the blessed Comforter.
The historian now returns to Peter, in order to introduce the
all-important narrative of Cornelius
The occurrences here related probably took place during Saul's sojourn
32-35. as Peter passed throughout all quarters--not now fleeing from
persecution, but peacefully visiting the churches.
to the saints which dwelt at Lydda--about five miles east of Joppa.
34. And Peter said unto him, Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee
make thy bed--(See on
35. all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron--(or "Sharon," a rich vale
between Joppa and Cæsarea).
saw him, and turned to the Lord--that is, there was a general
conversion in consequence.
36-39. at Joppa--the modern Jaffa, on the Mediterranean, a very
ancient city of the Philistines, afterwards and still the seaport of
Jerusalem, from which it lies distant forty-five miles to the northwest.
Tabitha . . . Dorcas--the Syro-Chaldaic and Greek names for
an antelope or gazelle, which, from its loveliness, was frequently
employed as a proper name for women [MEYER,
OLSHAUSEN]. Doubtless the
interpretation, as here given, is but an echo of the remarks made by the
Christians regarding her--how well her character answered to her name.
full of good works and alms-deeds--eminent for the activities and
generosities of the Christian character.
37. when they had washed--according to the custom of civilized nations
towards the dead.
in an--rather, "the"
38. the disciples sent unto Peter--showing that the disciples generally
did not possess miraculous gifts [BENGEL].
39. all the widows--whom she had clad or fed.
stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas
had made--that is, (as the tense implies), showing these as specimens
only of what she was in the habit of making.
40-43. Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down--the one in imitation
of his Master's way
the other, in striking contrast with it. The kneeling became the
lowly servant, but not the Lord Himself, of whom it is never once
recorded that he knelt in the performance of a miracle.
opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up--The graphic
minuteness of detail here imparts to the narrative an air of charming
41. he gave her his hand, and lifted her up--as his Lord had done to
his own mother-in-law
43. with one Simon a tanner--a trade regarded by the Jews as half
unclean, and consequently disreputable, from the contact with dead
animals and blood which was connected with it. For this reason, even by
other nations, it is usually carried on at some distance from towns;
accordingly, Simon's house was "by the seaside"
Peter's lodging there shows him already to some extent above Jewish