J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 13
Verses 2, 3
We have already seen that Barnabas and Saul had labored
one whole year together in the city of Antioch, and we now learn that
at the close of this period there were other inspired teachers associated
(1) "Now there were in the Church in Antioch certain
prophets and teachers, Barnabas and Simeon called Niger, and Lucius
the Cyrenian, and Manaen, foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and
It will be observed that, in this catalogue of names, that of
Barnabas stands first, and that of Saul last. As it was customary at
that period to arrange names in the order of their notability at the
time contemplated, we may infer that Barnabas still occupied a position
of pre-eminence, while Saul was as yet comparatively undistinguished
among the inspired teachers. Nothing more is known of
Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen than is here stated; but this is enough
to show that the future instruction of the congregation might be
safely committed to their hands.
(2) "As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy
Spirit said, Separate for me Barnabas and Saul to the work to which
I have called them.
(3) And when they had fasted and prayed and laid
hands on them, they sent them away."
This command of the Holy
Spirit is not the call of Barnabas and Saul to their peculiar work, but
refers to a call which had been previously given. It shows that Barnabas
as well as Saul had received a special call to labor among the
Gentiles. They had, hitherto, most probably, been associated together
mainly through geniality of spirit. This geniality may also have furnished
the main reason why they were directed by the Holy Spirit to
continued their labors together.
The design of the ceremony of fasting, prayer, and imposition of
hands observed on this occasion is variously understood. There are
only two interpretations of it which are worthy of notice. First, it is
assumed that the design was to confer on Barnabas and Saul the
power of working miracles. The only proof offered in support of this
assumption is the fact that neither of them is said to have wrought
miracles previous to this time, while they both exhibited miraculous
powers shortly after. But this is to argue from the silence of the
Scriptures, and is, necessarily, inconclusive. They may have worked
miracles before this time, notwithstanding this silence. In the case of
Saul, indeed, there is almost positive proof that he did so. The Lord
had given him a special commission as an apostle when he first appeared
to him on the way to
and Ananias was sent to
him that he "might receive his sight, and be filled with the
Holy Spirit." [9:17.]
Immediately after his immersion he began to discharge his
apostolic office, and had been thus engaged three years previous to
his first return to
Jerusalem. [Galatians 1:15-18.]
Another whole year had been spent
in the same work in
Antioch, [Acts 11:26.]
besides the interval of his residence
in Tarsus. [9:3; 11:25.]
But an essential mark of the apostolic office was the
power to work miracles. This Paul himself assumes, in his Second
Epistle to the Corinthians, among whom his apostleship has been denied.
As conclusive proof of his apostleship, he says, "Truly the
signs of an apostle were wrought among you, in all patience, in
and wonders and
mighty deeds." [2 Corinthians 12:12.]
If these signs are the proof of apostleship,
then he must have been able to exhibit them from the time
that he began to be an apostle; and this was more than four years
previous to the imposition of hands by the prophets and teachers in
Antioch. This fact, coupled with the statement of Ananias, that he
was sent to him that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit, indicates
clearly that his miraculous endowments dated from his immersion.
The first supposition, then, in reference to the design of the
ceremony we are considering, proves to be not only unfounded, but
inconsistent with the facts of the case.
The second, and doubtless the true interpretation, is this: That the
imposition of hands, accompanied by fasting and prayer, was, in this
case, as in that of the seven deacons,
merely their formal separation
to the special work to which they had been called. This, indeed, is
sufficiently evident from the context. What they did was doubtless
what they had been told to do by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit
simply said to them, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul
to the work to
which I have called them." The fasting, prayer, and imposition of
hands was, then, merely their separation to this work. It was a ceremony
deemed by infinite wisdom suitable to such a purpose; and, therefore,
whenever a congregation has a similar purpose to accomplish,
they have, in this case, the judgments and will of God, which should be
The solemn simplicity of this apostolic ceremony stands in striking
contrast with the pompous mummery which often characterizes "ordination"
services in modern Churches. No less striking is the contrast
between the humility of Saul and the ambitious spirit of many modern
clergyman who are extremely exacting in reference to the punctilios
of ecclesiastical rank. Though an apostle by special commission, he
was "ordained" by his humble fellow-laborers in Antioch. This fact
shows that the idea of superior rank and authority had not then begun
the work of ruin which it has since accomplished, in filling the
minds of preachers with the same lust of office and power which
characterizes the intrigues of political partisans.
Verses 4, 5
We now follow Barnabas and Saul to their new field of labor.
Their departure from Antioch is thus announced by Luke:
they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia, and thence
sailed into Cyprus.
(5) And when they were in Salamis, they preached
the word of God in the synagogues. And they had John as an assistant."
Seleucia was the seaport nearest to Antioch, distant some fifteen or
eighteen miles, and near the mouth of the river Orontes, on the bank
of which Antioch is situated. Embarking upon some trading vessel,
they sailed to the port of Salamis, which is at the eastern end of the
island of Cyprus.
In choosing this island as the first point in the wide world to which
they directed their steps, they were, doubtless, guided not by the natural
partiality which Barnabas may have felt for it as his native
land, [Acts 4:36.]
but by that fixed principle in the apostolic labors which taught them
to cultivate first those fields which promised the most abundant
harvest. [See Com. i: 8.]
The fact that this was the native island of Barnabas gave him
hope of a more ready access to many old associates. Besides, the gospel
had already been proclaimed here with some success among the
and in the city of Salamis, as we learn from the text just
quoted, there was more than one Jewish synagogue.
What duties were performed by John, in his capacity as "an assistant,"
can not be specifically determined with certainty. The term assistant
would indicate that he performed, under their direction, a part
of the same labor in which they were themselves engaged. The fact,
however, that Saul was not in the habit of immersing his own converts,
but imposed this duty on his
renders it highly probable
that this was at least one of the duties performed by John.
Verses 6, 7
Luke is entirely silent in reference to the effect of the apostolic
preaching in Salamis, leaving us to suppose that it was not great.
After stating that they preached in the synagogues of the Jews, he
follows them in their further progress through the island.
having passed through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a
certain magician, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus,
who was with Sergius Paulus the proconsul, a prudent man, who called
for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God."
reader of ancient history has observed that statesmen and generals
were in the habit of consulting oracles and auguries, and that they
generally kept about them some one supposed to have the power of
interpreting the signs of approaching good or evil. In this particular
period, the educated Romans had become skeptical in reference
to their heathen oracles, but Jewish pretenders still had access to their
confidence on the credit of the ancient Jewish prophets. With a
knowledge of the true God superior to that of even the greatest philosophers
among the Greeks, because derived from the Jewish Scriptures,
this Bar-Jesus very naturally gained the confidence of even the prudent
Sergius Paulus. When, however, two other Jews appeared in Paphos,
claiming to bring additional revelations from the God of Israel, the
same prudence which had prompted the proconsul to reject the
heathen oracles in favor of the Jewish pretender, now prompted him
to send for Barnabas and Saul, that he might hear the word of God
from them. Such a mind as his could not fail to hear with profit.
While listening to the gospel, there were some indications that
he was inclined to believe it.
(8) "But the magician Elymas, for so is
his name translated, withstood them, seeking to turn aside the proconsul
from the faith.
(9) Then Saul, who is also Paul, filled with the Holy
Spirit, fixed his eyes on him,
(10) and said, O full of all subtilty and all
mischief, son of the devil, enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to
pervert the right ways of the Lord?
(11) And now, behold, the hand of
the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a
season. And immediately there fell upon him a mist, and darkness, and
he went about seeking persons to lead him by the hand.
(12) Then the
proconsul, seeing what was done, being astonished by the Lord's
This is the only miracle wrought by an apostle to the injury of any
one's person. It is to be accounted for, not by supposed resentment
on the part of Saul, nor by a desire to make a special example of Bar-jesus.
But the case was such that some display of power over the
person of the false prophet was the readiest way to convince the proconsul.
When Moses went into Egypt he found it necessary to impose
many personal inflictions upon the priests, in order to destroy
Pharaoh's confidence in them. The present case was similar to that.
The conflict in the mind of Sergius Paulus was between the claim of
Bar-jesus to prophetic powers, and that of the apostles. The best way
to settle this question was to denounce him in his true character as a
son of the devil and an enemy of all righteousness, and then prove
the justice of the denunciation, by exerting miraculous control over
his person. As he groped about, calling upon one and another of the
frightened bystanders to lead him by the hand, the falsity and iniquity
if his pretensions stood confessed, and the divine mission of the apostles
was demonstrated. The proconsul was fully convinced, and astonished
at teaching which was attended by such power.
This triumph over Bar-jesus, and the consequent conversion of
Sergius Paulus, forms an epoch in the life of the Apostle Paul. Hitherto
he has occupied a subordinate position, and his name has come
last in the list of himself and his fellow-laborers. But hereafter he
is to occupy the foreground of almost every scene in which he acts.
Heretofore, Luke has written "Barnabas and Saul;" hereafter he
writes, "Paul and Barnabas." He had been, up to this time, known
by no other name than Saul, being so called not only by Luke, but
by Jesus and
Luke, though writing long after this name
had gone into disuse, remembering the custom which thus far prevailed,
thus far retains it in his narrative. But, from this time forward
he uses the name Paul exclusively; and that this was the
universal custom, we infer from the fact that he is so called by all
others who mention his name; by the Lord
by the mob in
by the centurion under
by his own nephew; [23:20.]
by Lysias the
by Festus; [26:24.]
and by Peter. [2 Peter 3:15.]
There are only two suppositions worthy of notice, by which to
account for this change of name. First, that he had both the Hebrew
name Saul, and the Latin name Paul, before this time, and perhaps
from his infancy; but the conversion of the proconsul Paulus
led to the exclusive use of his Latin name thereafter. This supposition,
however, can not account for the entire absence of the name
Paul previous to this event. Moreover, while it is true that many
Jews of that day had both a Hebrew and a Latin or Greek name,
there is no evidence that such had been the case with Saul.
The other supposition is, that he received this new name by common
consent, in commemoration of the conversion of Paulus. This
conversion was a signal triumph; it was accomplished by his intrumentality
alone, and was the beginning of the pre-eminence which he
afterward maintained over Barnabas and all subsequent follow-laborers.
So bold and startling an incident, though it might have been
regarded as common-place in his subsequent career, attracted attention
now, because it was the first of the kind in his history, and
because it secured a conversion of which even Barnabas, under the
circumstances, might have despaired. Surprised by the event, and
observing the extreme similarity between his name and that of his
distinguished convert, which differed only in a single letter, and sounded
very much alike, his friends very naturally conceived the idea of
changing his name, as they did. It was in perfect harmony with a
prevalent custom of the time. Its universal reception soon followed
as a matter of course.
It argues no vanity in Paul that he adopted this name; for he
could scarcely avoid the adoption into his own use of a name by
which he had become universally known. There is nothing in the
event, therefore, to encourage men in pompously sounding abroad their
own achievements, but much to encourage us in honoring a
brother whose boldness and success are worthy of praise.
Without pausing to give more detailed accounts of the success
of the gospel in Cyprus, our historian now hurries us away with the
two apostles upon the further prosecution of their tour.
those about Paul set sail from Paphos, and went to Perga of Pamphylia.
But John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem."
So completely has Paul now become the central figure on the pages of
Luke, that here, instead of following his former phraseology, and
saying that "Barnabas and Saul" set sail from Paphos, the whole company
are described as "those about Paul."
Why they chose the regions north of Pamphylia, in Asia Minor, as
their next field of labor, we are not informed. Luke is equally
silent in reference to the reason why John Mark, at this particular
juncture, departed from them, and returned to Jerusalem. He informs
us, however, at a later period, that Paul censured him for so
doing. [Acts 15:38.]
It is very plausibly suggested by Mr. Howson, that he was
influenced by fear of the dangers which lay in their way, the mountains
before them being commonly infested with
robbers. [Life and Epistles, vol. i, pp. 162-3.]
that "No population, through the midst of which he ever traveled,
abounded more in those 'perils of robbers' of which he himself speaks,
than the wild and lawless clans of the Pisidian highlanders."
Verses 14, 15
Luke does not longer to recount the dangers through which
the two travelers may have passed in crossing the mountains, but
describes their progress in these few words:
(14) "But they, having
departed from Perga, arrived in Antioch of Pisidia, and entering into
the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, they sat down.
(15) And after the
reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to
them, and said, Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the
people, say on."
This is a very life-like description of the order of
worship in a Jewish synagogue, and of the readiness with which the
apostles gained access to the ears of their Jewish kinsmen upon their
first advent in a new field of labor. The direct invitation given them
to address the people was doubtless prompted by some vague knowledge
of their characters as public speakers, furnished, perhaps, by
To this invitation Paul responded, by immediately arising and
addressing the audience. It need not be supposed, in order to account
for the leadership which he now assumes, that he had laid formal
claim to superiority over Barnabas; for when two men, of generous
spirit, are co-operating together under trying circumstances, he who
possesses the greater courage and promptness will eventually assume
the foremost position, even without a special agreement to that effect.
Such was the constant danger and embarrassment of the two missionaries,
that the question was, who is willing to go forward, rather
than, who has the right to be heard first. Paul's manner, in arising
to open the gospel message among these strangers, was bold and
commanding. It is thus described by Luke:
(16) "Then Paul stood
up, and beckoning with his hand, said, Men of Israel, and ye who fear
God, give audience."
This gesture, described as beckoning with the
hand, was characteristic of Paul's manner, as well shall have occasion
to observe frequently hereafter, and was well calculated to arrest the
attention of an audience. It is the manner of one who knows what
he is about to say, and feels confident of its importance.
Besides the Jewish audience present, Paul addressed a number of
Gentiles, [Seeverse 42,below.]
such as were in the habit of attending Jewish worship in
almost every Gentile city, and many of whom, like Cornelius, had
learned to worship the true God. He distinguishes the two classes,
by addressing the former as "Men of Israel," and the latter, as "Ye
who fear God."
After thus arresting the attention of his hearers, he approaches
his main theme, by a rapid glance at some of the most
cherished events in Jewish history.
(17) "The God of this people
Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as
strangers in the land of Egypt, and with a high hand led them out of
(18) and about the time of forty years nourished them in the wilderness.
(19) And having destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan,
he gave their land to them as an inheritance.
(20) After these
things, he gave them judges about four hundred and fifty years, until the
(21) Then they desired a king, and God gave them
Saul, the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, forty years.
(22) And having removed him, he raised up to them David for a king,
to whom he also gave testimony and said, I have found David, the son of
Jesse, a man according to my own heart, who will do all my will.
From this man's offspring God has, according to his promise, raised up
to Israel a Savior, Jesus;
(24) John having preached, before his coming,
the immersion of repentance to all the people of Israel."
This glance at the history of history, from their departure out of
Egypt to the reign of David, is a very circuitous method of approaching
the announcement of Jesus as a Savior; but, instead of being a
defect in the speech, it is one of its chief excellencies. Every speech
must be judged with reference to the special character of the audience
addressed. The Jews had a glorious history, of which they
were justly proud; and any happily expressed allusions to its leading
facts always awakened in their hearts the most lively emotions.
These incidents furnished the inspiration of their songs, the themes
of their orators, the foundation of their national pride, and their
comfort in persecution. Whoever, of their own people, appeared
most deeply touched by their memories, had the readiest access to
their sympathies, and he who would treat them with indifference or
contempt, incurred their utmost hatred. Before such an audience, if
Paul had abruptly introduced the name and the new doctrine of
Jesus, he might have appeared an apostate from the Jewish faith,
seeking to supplant it by something entirely new, and would therefore
have kindled the resentment of his Jewish hearers at once. But,
beginning with a happy reference to the history of the chosen tribes,
and the reign of their most glorious king, and catching up the promise
made to David, on which their own most cherished hopes were
based, he leads them, by almost imperceptible steps, to the favorable
consideration of the fulfillment of that promise in the appearance of
Jesus as a Savior to Israel. The reference to John, whom all the
Jews now accredited as a prophet, served the same purpose, while it
designated more specifically the period in which Jesus had first
appeared as a Savior.
The commentators have all noticed the striking similarity between
this introduction of Paul's speech and that of Stephen before the
of which Paul was probably a hearer. But the attentive
reader of our comments upon the two speeches will observe that the
similarity is merely in the facts referred to, not in the purpose for
which the reference is made; Paul's object being merely to favorably
introduce his main theme, while Stephen was gathering up a bundle
of misdeeds in the history of the fathers, with which to lash the
backs of sons who were so wickedly imitating their resistance to the
Having alluded to John's preparatory ministry, he next introduces
the direct testimony which he bore to the Messiahship of Jesus.
(25) "Now as John was fulfilling his course, he said, Whom think ye
that I am? I am not he, but behold, there is coming after me one whose
sandal I am not worthy to loose from his feet."
This was a habitual
saying of John, well known to all who heard his preaching, or had
heard of it, and brought to bear the whole weight of his testimony
in favor of Jesus.
Those who have been accustomed to watch the sympathy between
a speaker and his audience can readily perceive, in the change
of Paul's manner just here, evidence that he discovered some favorable
emotions at work in his audience. He interrupts the thread of
his argument, by warmly remarking:
(26) "Brethren, children of the
stock of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you is the
word of this salvation sent."
But his impetuosity was not so great as
to make him forget, altogether, the deep-seated prejudices to be overcome
in his audience, or to waive the convincing and persuasive
proofs he had yet to present. He proceeds, therefore, with renewed
deliberation, to a fuller statement of the argument.
After claiming that the Messiahship of Jesus was so well
authenticated, it was necessary to give some explanation of the singular
fact, that the Jews, who knew him well, had put him to death
as an impostor. This he does in a way that not only removes all
objection, but furnishes additional evidence in his favor.
they who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, not knowing him and the
voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath-day, fulfilled them in
(28) And though they found not the least cause of
death in him, they requested Pilate that he should be put to death.
And when they had completed all that was written of him, they took him
down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher."
Thus, his rejection and
death at the hands of Jews, which might have appeared to Paul's
hearers an argument against his claims, are made to tell mightily in
his favor, by the fact that this was but the fulfillment of what the
prophets had written concerning the Messiah.
In this brief statement of the death and burial of Jesus, Paul
makes no distinction between those who put him to death and those
who "took him down from the tree, and laid him in the sepulcher."
But this omission is entirely justifiable; for, although his friends, Joseph
and Nicodemus, performed the last two acts, they did it by the
express permission of Pilate, and it may be regarded as, in a proper
sense, the act of his enemies.
The speaker proceeds to the climax of his argument; a
proof of the Messiahship still more conclusive, if possible than the testimony
of John, or the fulfillment of prophesy.
(30) "But God raised
him from the dead;
(31) and he was seen many days by those who came
up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the
(32) And we declare to you glad tidings concerning the promise
made to the fathers,
(33) that God has fulfilled it to us, their children,
by raising up Jesus; as it is written in the second Psalm,
Thou art my son; to-day have I begotten thee."
The fact of the resurrection
of Jesus, so well attested by competent witnesses, is introduced,
not only as the final proof of his Messiahship, but as happy
tidings to these Jews, being no less than the fulfillment of the promise
to the fathers, and the realization of their most cherished hopes.
The difficulty of applying the words of David, "Thou art my son;
to-day I have begotten thee," to the resurrection of Jesus, has led
many commentators to suppose that both it and the expression, "raising
up Jesus," refer to his incarnation. But these words of David,
in every other instance of their occurrence in the New Testament, are
applied to his resurrection, and not to his natural birth. In
Paul says: "Christ glorified not himself to be made a priest, but
he who said to him, Thou art my son; to-day have I begotten thee."
Now, as Christ was not a priest until after he had died as a victim,
and was prepared to enter heaven with his own blood, it is clear that
these words are applied to his resurrection, at the time of which he
entered upon his priestly office. So, likewise, in
question, "To which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my
son; to-day have I begotten thee?" is adduced as evidence of his superiority
to angels, and can not, therefore, refer to the period when he
was "made a little lower than the
angels." [Hebrews 2:9.]
That the term rendered
begotten may be properly referred to the resurrection is evident
from the fact that he is called the "first begotten from the
dead," [Revelation 1:5.]
and the "first born from the
dead," [Colossians 1:18.]
in which two expressions the
Greek words are the same. He was the "only begotten son of
God," [John 1:14,18.]
by his birth of the Virgin Mary; but he became the "first born from
the dead," or the "first born of the whole
creation," [Colossians 1:15.]
when he was
declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from
the dead. [Romans 1:4.]
In applying the quotation from the second Psalm,
therefore, to the resurrection, and endeavoring to cheer the Jews in
Antioch, with the thought that a long-cherished and familiar promise
was thereby fulfilled, Paul was giving his real understanding of the
passage quoted, and it is one as much more cheering than that
which many commentators have gathered from it, as the exaltation
of Christ from the grave to his throne in the heavens was a more
glorious birth than that which brought him into this sinful world.
That we have given the true explanation of the clause last
quoted is confirmed by the course of the argument in that which follows,
in which the speaker continues to quote from David, to prove
that, according to his prophesies, the Messiah should rise from the
(34) "Now that he did raise him from the dead, no more to
return to corruption, he spoke thus: I will give to you the sure mercies
(35) Wherefore he also says in another psalm, Thou wilt not
suffer thy Holy One to see corruption.
(36) For David, after he had
served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, and was added
to his fathers, and saw corruption;
(37) but he whom God raised up
did not see corruption."
The words quoted from the
"I will give
you the sure mercies of David," have given no little trouble to both
translators and interpreters. No translator can feel well satisfied with
rendering ta osia David ta pista,
the sure mercies of David; yet the literal
translators have generally adopted this as the best that can be
done. I think the words mean the holy things made sure to David.
The purpose of the quotation is to prove that God would raise the
Messiah from the dead no more to return to corruption. He assumes,
therefore, that the words quoted refer to the Messiah, and that his
hearers would not dispute the reference. Whatever, therefore, might
otherwise be our own understanding of the words, we must take this
as their true reference. The promise is addressed not to the Messiah,
but to the Jews; for the pronoun you
(umin) is in the plural number.
It is a promise, then, to give to the Jews the holy things faithfully
promised to David, among which was the promise already referred to,
"Thou wilt not suffer thy Holy One to see corruption."
therefore, the required proof that the Messiah would rise, and not see
The only objection which his hearers would be likely to raise against
the argument is, that in the words, "Thou wilt not suffer thy Holy
One to see corruption,"
David spoke of himself. But this objection is
anticipated by the remark that David had fallen asleep and seen corruption,
whereas he, Jesus, whom God raised up, as was proved by the
witnesses who saw him alive, did not see corruption; hence to him the
words must refer. According, therefore, to the only possible application
of David's words, and to the admitted reference of the words
quoted from Isaiah,
they were bound to admit that Jesus was the Messiah.
Verses 38, 39
Having now established, by brief, but unanswerable arguments,
the Messiahship of Jesus, Paul proceeds to offer the audience
the benefit of his mediation.
(38) "Be it known to you, therefore, brethren,
that through this man is preached to you the remission of sins;
and in him every one who believes is justified from all from which you
could not be justified in the law of Moses."
The expression en touto,
in him, not
by him as rendered in the common version, indicates that the
parties to be justified must be in Christ, that is, in subjection to his
authority; as the expression en to uomo,
in the law, applies to those
who were under the law, and not to uncircumcised Gentiles who were
not under it. The benefits of the Jewish law extended only to those
who were born in, or properly initiated into the body of people to
whom the law was given; and just so, the remission of sins is preached
only to those who shall be in Christ by being properly initiated into
By the antithesis here instituted between the law and the gospel,
Paul assumes that there was no remission of sins enjoyed by those
under the law. For he asserts that there were some things "from
which they could not be justified in the law of Moses;" and in the
expression "justified from all from which you could not be justified
in the law," the true supplement after all is
sins, taken from the preceding
clause. He announces that remission of sins is preached
through Jesus, and from these he assumes that under the law there
was no justification. This point, indeed, would need no argument,
even if the context did not settle it; for certainly, if there was any
thing from which under the law could not be justified, it was sin;
and, on the other hand, in Christ we are justified from nothing but
sin. The assumption is not, that justification can not be procured by
works of law, for this is equally true under Christ; but that those under
the law of Moses did not obtain remission of sins at all.
Paul argues this assumption at length, in the ninth and tenth chapters
of Hebrews. The only provisions in the law at all connected
with remission of sins were its sacrifices; and he asserts of them, "It
is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away
sins." [Hebrews 10:4.]
It can not be rightly assumed that he contemplates these sacrifices
as considered apart from their typical meaning; for he makes
no such distinction. He takes them just as he finds them, with all
that belongs to them when offered in good faith, and makes the assertion
that it is not possible for them to take away sins. In the preceding
verses of the same chapter he presents a specific argument based
upon this broad assertion: "The law, having a shadow of good things
to come, and not the very image of those things, can never, by those
sacrifices which they offer year by year continually, make the comers
He proves this proposition, and shows the particular
in which they were still imperfect, by adding, "For then would
they not have ceased to be offered? Because the worshipers, once
cleansed, would have no more conscience of
If a man had
once obtained remission of particular sins, he would, of course, as is
here argued, no longer offer sacrifices for those sins, seeing that his
conscience would no longer annoy him in reference to them. But
it is a fact, he argues further, that "In those sacrifices there is a
remembrance of sins made every
The sins of the year, for
which offerings had been made daily, were remembered again on the
annual day of atonement, and new sacrifices offered for them declaring
to the worshiper that they were still remembered against him. As
this continued, annually, throughout the life of the pious Jew, it left
him in the same condition at the day of his death, and he was gathered
to his fathers with his sins still unforgiven.
The same truth is taught in the very terms of the new covenant. In
stating the points of dissimilarity between it and the old covenant
made at Mount Sinai, the Lord says, "I will be merciful to their
and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no
more;" implying that under the old covenant this blessing was not
We can not dismiss this topic without paying some attention to the
question which forces itself upon us, What did the saints, under the
old covenant, enjoy in reference to forgiveness, and what is the
meaning of the promise so often attached to sin offerings, "The priest shall
make an atonement for him concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven
him?" [Leviticus 4:1-5:19; 16:30-34.]
If we had nothing but this promise to guide us, we could but
conclude that the party was, at the time, really forgiven; but with
Paul's comments upon it before us, we are compelled to avoid this conclusion,
and seek some other explanation of the words. There can
not be less than a promise of pardon in the words quoted; and as it
can not be a promise fulfilled at the time, it must be a promise reserved
to some future period for fulfillment.
That the promise of pardon made to Jews and patriarch was reserved
for fulfillment to the death of Christ, Paul affirms in these
words: "On this account he is the mediator of the new covenant, that
by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions that were
under the first covenant, they who were called" (that is, the ancient
elect) "might receive the
promise of eternal
inheritance." [Hebrews 9:15.]
reception of the "promise of eternal inheritance," by those who were
under the first covenant, is made to depend upon the redemption of
their transgressions. This redemption was not effected till the death
of Christ; therefore, till his death their transgressions remained unforgiven.
Though they had the promise of pardon, and rejoiced in the
full assurance that it would yet be granted, they were compelled to
regard it as blessing of the future and not of the present. Their
enjoyment, as compared with that of the saints under the new covenant,
was as that of one who has from God a promise of pardon, compared
with him who has it already in possession. Their happiness,
like ours, depended upon their faith in God's word.
Verses 40, 41
This passage in Paul's speech was most unwelcome to his
Jewish hearers. It was an express disparagement of the law of Moses
such as always fell harshly upon Jewish ears. We consequently
see in the next and last paragraph of the speech an indication of a
change in the aspect of the audience. It is only an audience in
whom a most unfavorable change is discernible, that so watchful a
speaker could address in these words:
(40) "Beware, then, lest that
which is said in the prophets come upon you;
(41) Behold, ye despisers,
and wonder and perish; for I do a work in your days, a work which you
will not believe though one should fully declare it to you."
some evidence of their incredulity was visible in their countenances,
if it was not exhibited by audible murmurings. The force of the
was to show, that if they did
reject the gospel, they would only be identifying themselves with a
class of whom this conduct had been predicted.
The surprise expressed by the prophet, that they would not believe
though one should declare it to them, does not assume that they
should believe facts so astounding upon the mere assertion of an individual;
but the object of surprise is, that they would not believe
though one should declare it fully to them, that is, with all the
incontestable evidences of its reality. Undoubtedly the work referred
to by the apostle, in his application of the prophet's language, is the work
of raising up a savior to Israel in the person of Jesus.
Verses 42, 43
When Paul's speech was concluded, the synagogue was
dismissed and the apostle had an opportunity to learn what particular
effects had been produced. The people, candid and outspoken, let
him in no doubt on the subject.
(42) "Now as they were going out,
they entreated that these words should be spoken to them the next Sabbath,
(43) and, the synagogue being dismissed, many of the Jews and devout
proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, talking to them, persuaded
them to continue in the favor of God."
Thus, notwithstanding the majority
of the Jews in the audience gave such evidence of incredulity
as to extort the warning with which Paul closed his speech, some of
them were ready to believe; while the Gentile proselytes, less affected
by Jewish prejudices, and, therefore, better prepared to do justice to
the speaker, were most deeply interested. The picture which Luke
gives of their following Paul and Barnabas in a crowd away from
the synagogue, and keeping up an earnest conversation, is a striking
exhibition of the simple habits of the people, as well as of the
interest which they felt in the new and thrilling theme of the discourse.
So deep an interest kindled in the synagogue, and taking hold
of Gentile minds, could not fail to spread widely through the city during
the following week, and its progress was doubtless furthered by
the most active private exertions of Paul and Barnabas. The result
was seen in the next assemblage at the synagogue.
(44) "On the next
Sabbath almost the whole city were gathered together to hear the word
So large an assemblage of the people, to hear a doctrine which
appeared disparaging to the law of Moses, and which had, on this account,
already offended the mass of the Jews, could but arouse their
utmost indignation. They acted according to their uniform policy
under such circumstances.
(45) "But the Jews, when they saw the
multitudes were filled with zeal, and contradicted the things spoken by
Paul, contradicting and blaspheming."
This was one of the instances
in which Paul could say, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal
of God, but not according to
knowledge." [Romans 10:2.]
It was useless to reason
with them further, or to attempt to conciliate them.
Verses 46, 47
When men take a stand like this, nothing will satisfy them
but an abandonment of the truth; and hence that conciliatory bearing
which should mark our address to them up to this point, may,
with propriety, be dismissed, and we may proceed without regard to
their feelings. So the apostles acted.
(46) "Then Paul and Barnabas,
speaking boldly, said, It was necessary that the word of God
should first be spoken to you; but since you put it from you, and judge
yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold we turn to the Gentiles.
(47) For thus has the Lord commanded us, I have placed thee as a light
of the Gentiles, that thou mayest be for salvation to the extremity of the
earth." [Isaiah 49:6.]
The remark that it was necessary that the word of God
should first be spoken to them, before turning to the Gentiles, shows
that the apostles understood that the gospel was not only to begin
in Jerusalem, but that, in every distinct community, it was to begin
with the Jews. Hence the frequent occurrence, in Paul's style, of
the expression, "To the Jew first, and also to the
Gentile." [Romans 2:9,10.]
reason of this distinction has been discussed in the commentary on
Acts i: 8.
In the next paragraph we have a statement, the meaning of
which has excited no little controversy.
(48) "On hearing this the
Gentiles rejoiced, and glorified the word of the Lord, and as many as
were determined for eternal life believed."
The controversy turns upon
the meaning of the clause
osoi eoan tetagmenoi eis zoen aioniou, rendered,
in the common version, "as many as were ordained to eternal life."
The Calvinistic writers united in referring it to the eternal election and
foreordination taught in their creeds. They contend, therefore, for
the rendering "were ordained," or "were appointed." If their interpretation
were admitted, it would involve the passage in some difficulties
which none of them seem to have noticed. If it be true that
"as many as were
foreordained to eternal life believed," then there
were some of the foreordained left in that community who did not
believe. Hence, all those who did not then believe, whether adults or
infants, were among the reprobate, who were predestinated to everlasting
punishment. Now it is certainly most singular that so complete
a separation of the two parties should take place throughout a
whole community at one time; and still more singular that Luke
should so far depart from the custom of inspired writers as to
state the fact. Again, the same statement implies that all who believed
on that occasion were of the elect. For, if the parties who
believed were those who had been foreordained to eternal life, then
none of the non-elect could have been among the number. Here is
another anomalous incident: that on this occasion all who believed
were of the number who would finally be saved, and that Luke should
be informed of the fact and make it known to his readers. Certainly
we should not adopt an interpretation involving conclusions so anomalous,
unless we are compelled to do so by the obvious force of the
It is worthy of more that the efforts of Calvinistic writers to prove
that this is the meaning of these words consist chiefly in strong assertions
to that effect, and in attempts to answer the feebler class of
the objections urged against it. Thus Dr. Hackett asserts: "This is
the only translation which the philology of the passage allows."
But he makes no effort to prove that the New Testament usage of the
principal word involved allows this translation. The word rendered
ordained in this passage is
tasso--a term which is not employed in a
single instance in the New Testament in the sense of foreordained.
Where that idea is to be expressed, other words are uniformly employed.
The word in question is a generic term, having no single word in
English to fully represent it. Its generic sense is best represented by
our phrase, set in order. In its various specific applications, however,
we have single terms which accurately represent it. Thus, when
set in order a certain mountain in Galilee as a place to
meet his disciples, [Matthew 28:16.]
or the Jews in Rome taxamenoi
set in order a day
to meet Paul, [Acts 28:23.]
we best express the idea by
appointed. [It expresses the same idea inLuke 7:8; Acts 22:10.]
Paul says of civil rulers that "the existing authorities
were set in order by
God," [Romans 13:1.]
he does not intend to affirm that God had
appointed those rulers, but merely asserts his general providence in
their existence and arrangement. The idea is best expressed in English
by using the phrase set in order, or by saying they were
by God. When he asserts of the household of Stephanas, in
Corinth, that etaxan eautous they
set themselves in order for ministering
to the saints, [1 Corinthians 16:15.]
we would say they devoted themselves to ministering
to the saints. But when the brethren in Antioch had been puzzled
by the disputation between Paul and Barnabas and "certain men who
came down from Judea," in reference to circumcision, and they finally
set in order, to send some of both parties to the apostles and
elders in Jerusalem for a decision, the common version very correctly
renders it, "they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain
others of them should
go." [Acts 15:2.]
In reference to the propriety of this last rendering, Dr. Hackett
asserts that this term "was not used to denote an act of the
mind;" [Com. in loco.]
the awkward translation of this passage to which the assertion forces
him is evidence conclusive against it. He renders it, "They appointed
that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to
Jerusalem." [Com. xv: 2.]
This is an ungrammatical use of the word appointed.
When a mission has been determined upon, we appoint the individuals
who shall be sent, but we do not appoint that
they shall go. Evidently,
the state of the case was this: the brethren were at first undetermined
what to do in reference to the question in dispute, but finally
to send to Jerusalem for an authoritative decision of it. When a
man is undetermined in reference to a pressing question, his mind is
in confusion; but when he determines upon his course, it is no longer
confusion, but is
set in order. The term in question, therefore, meaning
primarily to set in order, is most happily adapted to the expression of
such a state of mind. Our English word dispose has a similar usage.
It means to arrange in a certain order, and applies primarily to external
objects; but when one's mind is found arranged in accordance with a
certain line of conduct, we say he is disposed to pursue it.
We scarcely need observe, after the above remarks, that the specific
meaning attached to the generic term in question, in any particular
passage, is to be determined by the context. In the passage we are
now considering, the context has no allusion to any thing like an
appointment of one part, and a
rejection of the other; but the writer
draws a line of distinction between the conduct of certain Gentiles
and that of the Jews addressed by Paul in the closing paragraph of his
speech. To render the contrast between the two more conspicuous,
he throws his words into antithesis with those of Paul. Paul had
said to the Jews, "You put the word of God
Luke says of
the Gentiles, "They glorified the
word of the Lord." Paul said, "You
unworthy of everlasting life;" Luke says, many of the
Gentiles "were determined for everlasting life." It is an act of the
mind to which Paul objects on the part of the Jews, and it is as
clearly an act of mind in the Gentiles which Luke puts in contrast
with it. At some previous time in their history, these Gentiles, like
all others, had been undetermined in reference to everlasting life,
either because they were not convinced that there was such a state,
or because they hesitated to seek for it. But now their minds were
set in order upon the subject, by being
determined to labor for the eternal
life which Paul preached.
It now remains, in order to full eludication of the passage, that we
account for the connection indicated between their being determined
for everlasting life, and their believing. The former stands as a cause
which led to the latter. Let it be noted that everlasting life is not
contemplated as the object of their belief, for, if it was, they
had to believe in it, before they could
determine for it; so that the order
of the two mental acts would be reversed. But, in common with the
Jews, who had been their religious instructors, they already believed
in a future state, and what they now learned to believe by Paul's
preaching was the gospel of Christ. Those of them who had, either
through previous religious instruction, or through the influence of
Paul's preaching, heartily determined for eternal life, were in a better
frame of mind to appreciate the evidence in favor of that Christ
through whom alone it could be obtained, than the others who were
so undetermined upon the subject that they appeared to judge themselves
unworthy of such a destiny. Such was the difference between
the two classes in the audience, and Luke's object is to declare the result
of the difference in the fact that the one class believed, and the
other thrust the word of God from them. To say that the difference
had been wrought in them exclusively by divine agency would be to
rob them of responsibility. Or to say that the favorably-disposed
party had become so exclusively by their own self-determining energy
would be to deny the influence of divine truth. Neither of these positions
can be true; but, while it was an act of their own minds to determine
for eternal life, it was God who had induced them to do so; at the
same time, the other party determined against eternal life, in despite
of the same divine influence exerted upon them.
The animosity of the Jews, excited by the success of the
apostles, finally resulted in their expulsion from the city. The account
is given in brief terms:
(49) "And the word of the Lord was
published throughout the whole region.
(50) But the Jews stirred up the
devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised a
persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their
(51) And they, shaking off the dust of their feet against them,
went into Iconium.
(52) But the disciples were full of joy and the Holy
The means by which this persecution was brought about
serves to illustrate the relation which the Jews who were settled in
Gentile cities sustained to the surrounding society. They had no political
power in their own hands, and dared not lay violent hands
upon the apostles. But certain "honorable women," wives of the
"chief men of the city," had come under their influence by attending
the synagogue worship, and through them they gained access to their
unbelieving husbands so as to induce them to expel Paul and Barnabas.
It is a suggestive fact, that the women who were made instruments
of a transaction so discreditable are styled "devout women." It
shows that devotion in the worship of God, like zeal when not
according to knowledge, may be made to do the devil's own work. The
more devout one's feelings, while his mind is corrupted by false conceptions
of duty, the greater mischief he is likely to do; so far is it
from being true, that to make the heart right is to make the whole
man right. No man is safe without a proper understanding of his
duty, derived from the word of God.
Paul and Barnabas were not without indignation when they were
thus ignominiously expelled from the city; but the only exhibition
which they made of it was that which the Savior had directed; "they
shook off the dust of their feet against
them." [Mark 6:11.]
This was not a mere
idle or childish mark of resentment, as it would be in an uninspired
teacher; but was designed as "a testimony against them," a solemn
warning of the righteous judgment of God, whom they had rejected
in rejecting his chosen
messengers. [Luke 10:16.]
We would imagine that the young disciples, from whom their religious
teachers were thus violently driven away, would have been overwhelmed
with grief and fear. But we are told, as quoted above, that
they were "filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." The full assurance
given by the gospel of that everlasting life which they had "determined
for," and the belief that the Spirit of God dwelt in their
mortal bodies, supplied them with a joy which was no longer dependent
on human agency, and of which human power could not deprive