corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Acts 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

The Damascus Journey of Saul, 1, 2.

Acts 9:1. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. The narrative is here taken up again from chap. Acts 8:3, where we left the young Pharisee Saul ‘making havock of the Church.’ Some months at least had probably elapsed, during which period the events related in the ‘Acts of Philip the Deacon,’ chap, 8, took place. The work of persecution had been actively carried on in the city and adjacent districts, and now the chief inquisitor Saul, to use his own words (chap. Acts 26:11), ‘being exceedingly mad against the followers of Jesus, determined to search them out and exterminate them in districts and cities far remote from Jerusalem.’ His tone of mind at the time is graphically described by the writer of the ‘Acts’ in the words, ‘Saul, breathing out;’ or more accurately ‘breathing,’ not merely ‘threatening,’ but in his blind rage even ‘death’ against them. Menace and slaughter constituted at this period of his life the vital air which he exhaled and inhaled.

Went unto the high priest. The great Sanhedrim claimed and exercised over the Jews in foreign countries supreme power in religious questions. The high priest in this case, as frequently, though not invariably, was president of the Sanhedrim. His name is not certainly known, as the exact date of this mission of Saul is doubtful, and the high-priestly office was much interfered with by the Roman government at this time. We read of Jonathan, the son of Annas, and his brother Theophilus in turn, during the years 37, 38, enjoying this high dignity, from which the famous Caiaphas had been deposed A. D. 36. But the real power now, as at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, was in the hands of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was regarded by the nation as the legitimate high priest.


Verse 2

Acts 9:2. And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues. The Jews at Damascus were very numerous. The religion of Jesus had been preached most probably by individual believers, driven away from Jerusalem at the time of the persecution, but no doubt Damascus Jews had been among the converted on the first Pentecost.

Of this way. This expression is a favourite one with the author of the ‘Acts.’ It signifies the religion of Jesus (see Acts 19:9; Acts 22:4; Acts 24:22). It became soon a well-known and loved form of words in the early Church. It was to these first followers of the Crucified the way—the way that leads to heaven, as Chrysostom beautifully terms it; the way, as Bengel tells us, we must walk, not loiter over.


Verse 3

Acts 9:3. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus. The first view of this city, when the dim outline of her gardens becomes visible, is universally famous. The prospect has been always the same. The white buildings of Damascus gleamed in the mid-day sun before the eyes of Saul, as they do before a traveller’s eyes at this day, resting like an island of Paradise in the green enclosure of its beautiful gardens. It is the oldest city in the world. It was founded before Baalbec and Palmyra, and it has outlived them both. While Babylon is a heap in the desert and Tyre a ruin on the shore, it remains what it was called in the prophecy of Isaiah, ‘the head of Syria’ (Isaiah 7:8). Abraham’s steward, we read, was Eliezer of Damascus (see Howson, St. Paul, chap. 3).

Throughout the history of Israel, Damascus, her kings and armies, are constantly mentioned. Her mercantile greatness during this period is indicated in Ezekiel’s words addressed to Tyre (Ezekiel 27:16-18). As centuries passed by, Damascus seemed to grow in power and grandeur. The Emperor Julian, in the fourth century of the Christian era, describes it as the ‘eye of the East’ It reached its highest point of prosperity in the golden days of Mohammedan rule, when it became the royal residence of the Ommiad Caliphs and the metropolis of the Mohammedan world. It is still a great and most important city, with a population variously stated from 150,000 to 250,000 souls.

And suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven. From the recitals of the same event in chaps, 22 and 26, we learn it was about noon at midday. Then in the full splendour of an oriental sun at noon, around the Pharisee leader and his companions there flashed the blinding light of the Divine glory. It was the Shekinah, the glory in which Christ now dwells. Rays of this glory now and again have been permitted to fall on men’s eyes. It shone round Moses when he had been with the God of Israel on the mount; it rested at intervals on the golden mercy-seat of the ark, between the cherubim; it filled the Temple of Solomon on the dedication morning; it shone round the transfigured Jesus and the glorified Moses and Elias on Tabor; it flashed round the heads of the disciples in tongues of fire, while they prayed and waited for the Holy Ghost on the first Pentecost morning; and years after, John in his lonely watch at Patmos saw it encompassing the Son of man, when, awe-struck, he fell at the feet of the glorified Redeemer as one that was dead. In this blinding light Saul perceived the glorified body of Jesus. This we gather from Ananias’ words, Acts 9:17 : ‘The Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest;’ from Acts 9:27, when Barnabas declares to the apostles ‘how he (Saul) had seen the Lord in the way;’ from chap. Acts 22:14, when Saul is spoken of ‘as seeing the Just One;’ from 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul’s words, ‘Have I not seen Jesus Christ the Lord?’ and again, from 1 Corinthians 15:8, his own words, ‘Last of all He was seen of me also.’

We gather, then, from the narrative that Saul alone saw the form of the Redeemer in the shining glory. Braver perhaps than his companions, owing to his fervid, intense conviction that he was doing what he believed the will and work of the God of his fathers, less terrified than the men who journeyed with him by the awful vision of glory, while they, overcome with fear and awe, did not dare, after the first blinding glare had struck their eyes, to look up and gaze into the dazzling light, the Pharisee Saul seems to have looked on stedfastly for a short time, and as he gazed into the glory he saw the form of the risen Jesus. This at least suggests a reason for Saul’s subsequent blindness, which lasted three days, until the visit and action of Ananias,—a blindness which seems to have affected only Saul among that company of travellers.

He seems certainly to have gazed into that blinding, glorious light longer and more attentively than his companions; hence his after suffering. For even subsequent to the interview with Ananias,—although, when the disciple of Jesus had laid his hands on him, the blinded eyes were opened,—Saul does not appear to have ever recovered his sight as before. He came by degrees to learn, that never until he should gaze again on the glory of that light, and the One whom it environed, in the King’s city, would that dimness, and perhaps a constant sense of pain, be removed from those dazzled eyes which had gazed for a minute into the Divine splendour. We possess several apparent allusions in the subsequent history of St. Paul of this painful disease in the eyes. See Acts 13:9, where the earnest gaze probably indicated dimness of vision on the part of Paul; and Acts 23:1, on which occasion the same partial blindness, some think, prevented Paul from recognising the high priest when he addressed him in the Sanhedrim council. Compare Galatians 4:13-15, where not improbably this disease in the eyes is alluded to, and Galatians 6:11, where not a few expositors have supposed that the expression πηλίκοις γράμμασιν in Acts 9:2, translated in the English Version, ‘how large a letter,’—literally, ‘in what large letters,’—refers to the great rugged characters written by his own hand at the end of his Epistle, dictated to a scribe,—the weakness in his eyes preventing him from writing, and necessitating the employment of an amanuensis.


Verses 3-9

The Conversion of the Pharisee Leader Saul, 3-9.

After the Passion of the Lord, the conversion of St. Paul is the event to which attention is most frequently called in the sacred writings. Many times does this chiefest of our Christian teachers allude to it in his Epistles. Three times in this earliest of Christian histories is the relation repeated with more or less detail—once by Luke in this ninth chapter; twice by the apostle himself: in chap, 22, in his address to the people from the Temple stairs; in chap, 26, in his defence before Agrippa the king, and Festus the Roman procurator.

Three times, then, is this strange and marvellous story, which has had such a mighty influence upon the destinies of mankind, repeated. In this triple relation we cannot help discerning a striking analogy to the triple relation in the three first Gospels of so many of our Lord’s most remarkable acts and teaching. As in the gospel history an event or a discourse is often told three times, each recital differing from the other in many little circumstances, but each recital preserving throughout the same grand unity; so in the book of the ‘Acts’ is the conversion of the Pharisee Saul told, each narrative of the great event supplying some little fact or circumstance passed over in the others, yet all the three uniting in the main features of the awful scene—namely, the blinding light of glory (Acts 9:3; Acts 22:6; Acts 26:13); the voice from heaven heard and understood by the Pharisee Saul (Acts 9:5; Acts 22:8; Acts 26:14); the appearance of a glorified form, seen by and stamped for ever on the memory of him whom men knew afterwards as Paul (Acts 9:17; Acts 22:14; Acts 26:16),—each recital, too, agreeing with the repeated testimony of the Epistles, that Saul himself was fully convinced of the reality of the appearance of Christ to him.


Verse 4

Acts 9:4. And heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul. While the others were stunned, stupified, and confused, a clear Light broke in terribly on the soul of one of the little company. A voice spoke articulately to him, which to the rest was a sound mysterious and indistinct. He heard what they did not hear; he saw what they did not see: to them the awful sound was without a meaning. He heard the voice of the Son of God: to them it was a bright light which suddenly surrounded them. He saw Jesus, whom he was persecuting (Conybeare and Howson).

Why persecutest thou me? Chrysostom paraphrases the question thus: ‘What wrong great or small hast thou suffered from me, that thou doest these things?’ Me.’ The Lord here seems to recall His own words: ‘He that heareth you heareth Me, and He that despiseth you despiseth Me’ (Luke 10:16), and also the king’s solemn words in St. Matt., Matthew 21:35-45.


Verse 5

Acts 9:5. And he said, Who art thou, Lord? For a moment, perhaps, the awe-struck earnest Pharisee, while he gazed on the sweet face of the Master, which if he had not seen he must so often have heard described, in the midst of the glory, and listened to the voice speaking to him, might have doubted who it was. So he stammered out the question in the text; but the hesitation could have been but momentary. Conscience itself, as Bengel remarks, would whisper, ‘It is Jesus;’ he hardly needed the reply which quickly came.

And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. Why this answer, asks Chrysostom, from the glorified One? ‘Why did he not say, I am the Son of God, I am the Eternal Word, I am He that sitteth on the Father’s right hand, I am He that stretcheth out the heavens . . . who made the angels? . . . Why, instead of speaking these deep, grand, lofty words, did He say simply, I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest? ... If He had said to him (Saul), I am the Son of God, I am the Eternal Word, He who made the heavens, then he (Saul) would have been able to reply, The object of my persecution was a different one from this’ . . . So the glorified One simply replied: ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest.’

It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. These words are an interpolation here: they are borrowed from Paul’s own account of his conversion (chap, xx Acts 6:14), where they are undoubtedly genuine. See the Excursus at the end of this chapter, where the words are discussed at some length.

Excursus.

A peculiar interest is attached to these words. They were uttered by the Risen and Ascended Lord; they have been acknowledged without dispute by the Christian Church from the earliest days as a voice from the glory-throne in heaven. It is therefore to be expected that certain schools of theological thought would endeavour to find in a saying surrounded by so extraordinary a sanctity, an authoritative approval of the views which they advocated.

The metaphor, ‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks,’ was a favourite one in the heathen world; as, for instance:

‘With God we may not strive

But to bow down the willing neck,

And bear the yoke, is wise;

To kick against the pricks will prove

A perilous emprise.’(2)

It was frequently used both by Greek and Roman writers. We find it in the works of Pindar, Æschylus, and Euripides, and also in Plautus and Terence.(3) The words do not occur in any known collection of Hebrew Proverbs, but probably the same or a similar saying was current among the Jews.

[3 ]See Æsch. Prom. 323, Agamemn. 1633; Eur. Bacch. 791; Plautus, Truc. iv. 2. 59; Ter. Phormio, i. 2. 27.

The proverb, no doubt a most ancient one, if derived from oxen at the plough, which, on being pricked with the goad, kick against it, and so cause it to pierce them more severely. Its meaning here is obvious: it was useless, nay injurious, to resist Christ by persecuting His disciples. So St. Augustine (sermon 116): ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? I am in heaven, thou art on earth, and yet thou persecutest Me. It is not My head that thou touchest, but it is My members that thou treadest under foot.’ Professor Plumptre, however, with great force suggests that Saul had, in a peculiar and especial way, been for some time past ‘kicking against the pricks.’ ‘There had been promptings, misgivings, warnings, which he had resisted and defied. Among the causes of these we may reckon . . . the warning counsel of Gamaliel (chap, Acts 5:34-39), the angel-face of Stephen and the martyr’s dying prayer (chap. Acts 6:15, Acts 7:60), and the daily spectacle of those who were ready to go to prison and to death rather than to renounce the name of Jesus. In the frenzy of his zeal he had tried to crush these misgivings, and the effort to do so had brought with it discomfort and disquietude, which made him more exceeding mad against the disciples of the Lord.’ But this proverb used by the glorified Lord possesses its own peculiar importance—it teaches a great truth. To resist the call of Christ is ever a hard and profitless task; one, too, which is far beyond man’s power. Such a course of action must ever end in utter ruin and wreck for the unhappy one who struggles to resist. But hopeless as is such a resistance, certain as is the ruin which follows, the teaching of the passage shows it is possible for any of us to resist the Redeemer’s voice, and by this stubborn resistance, not by any means to bar the progress of His kingdom, but to bring misery and destruction upon oneself. We are led to this conclusion by the statement of Acts 26:19, which followed the recital of his meeting with Jesus on his way to Damascus: ‘Whereupon . . . I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.’ He might then have been disobedient to this summons of his Lord had he pleased. The call to Saul of Tarsus, then, was no irresistible summons. St. Augustine (sermon clxix.) well puts it: ‘Thou art angry, but I pity; why persecutest thou me? For I have no fear of thee that thou shouldest crucify ME a second time; my wish is that thou shouldest know ME, lest thou shouldest slay not ME but thine own self.’

It should be noticed that this utterance of Christ from His throne was made in the old sacred Hebrew tongue. Now Saul, to whom the voice came, was more conversant with Greek than with Hebrew. He seems to have generally adopted Greek as the language in which he conveyed his teaching in eastern as well as in western lands. The proverb, too, was no Hebrew, but a famous and well-known Greek saying. Hence Bengel’s comment on the employment of the Hebrew tongue by the voice from heaven, deserves grave attention, even if we hesitate fully to accept his conclusions. Hebrew,’ he says, ‘is Christ’s language on earth; His language, too, when speaking from heaven’ (see Excursus following chap. 26, where this question is fully discussed).

The careful comparison of the several parts of this section of the Acts of the Apostles one with another is of great importance. Worked out after the manner of the Horae Paulinae, it leads to evidential results of considerable value. With the direct narrative are to be compared—(1) The account of Cornelius given by his messengers; (2) Peter’s account of his own experience to Cornelius; (3) Cornelius’s account, in turn, of his own experience to Peter; (4) Peter’s apologetic account at Jerusalem. To fulfil the conditions of the argument drawn from ‘undesigned coincidences,’ these various sections must be in harmony with one another: yet they must have sufficient variation to suit their several occasions; and those variations must not be contrived: the whole must fit easily and naturally together. These particulars will be noticed as we go on, and the result will be summed up at the close in an Excursus on the two accounts of the conversion of Cornelius.


Verse 7

Acts 9:7. The men who journeyed with him stood speechless. In chap. Acts 26:14 Paul tells King Agrippa how ‘we were all fallen to the earth;’ here, in the narrative of Luke, we read how ‘they stood speechless.’ The words ‘stood speechless’ do not signify apparently that they stood erect, in distinction from lying prostrate, but that, overpowered with what they saw and heard, they were fixed, rooted as it were to the spot. It must also be borne in mind, that the fact, which it was especially desired that the reader or hearer of this narration should be impressed with, was not that the ‘men stood’ or were ‘fallen to the ground,’—this detail is utterly unimportant,—but that they were speechless and confounded.

Hearing a voice. In chap. Acts 22:9, Paul, speaking to the people from the Temple stairs, relates ‘how they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me;’ while here, in Luke’s narrative of the same event, we read of the companions of Paul ‘hearing a voice.’ Of the many solutions that have been proposed to reconcile this apparent contradiction, the best is that adopted by Baumgarten, Lange, Wordsworth, Gloag, etc., which explains Luke’s account in this chap. 9 thus:

The companions of Saul heard the sound of the words, while in Paul’s account (chap. Acts 22:9) ‘his companions did not understand what was spoken;’ or in other words, Saul received a clear impression of what was being spoken, whilst those with him received only an indefinite one. Once in the Gospel history a similar phenomenon is recorded by St. John 12:28-29, when there came a voice from heaven answering Jesus: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ Three classes of hearers are here spoken of: those who believed recognised the glorious voice and understood the words; others with less faith and love said it was an angel which spoke to Him; while to the multitude in general the voice was only as though it thundered.


Verse 8

Acts 9:8. And when his eyes were opened. When Saul rose up, probably after some interval, and opened his eyes, he found he was blind from the effects of that gleaming light into which he had gazed for a short space. He himself tells us that he was blinded by the light which shone from heaven: ‘I could not see for the glory of that light’ (chap. Acts 22:11).

He saw no man. He could discern none of the familiar faces of his companions, because he was now blind. The reading of the older MSS. is even stronger: ‘He saw nothing.’

And they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. ‘Thus came Saul into Damascus, not as he had expected, to triumph in an enterprise on which his soul was set, to brave all difficulties and dangers, to enter into houses and carry off prisoners to Jerusalem; but he passed himself like a prisoner beneath the gateway, and through the colonnades of the street called “Straight,” where he saw not the crowd of those who gazed on him. He was led by the hands of others, trembling and helpless, to the house of Judas, his dark and solitary lodging’ (Conybeare and Howson).


Verse 9

Acts 9:9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. Augustine writes how Saul was blinded that his heart might be enlightened with an inner light. Then, when other things were unseen by him, he kept gazing on Jesus; so piercing, so deep was his remorse, that during this time he neither ate nor drank. ‘He could have no communion with Christians, for they had been terrified by the news of his approach, and the unconverted Jews could have no true sympathy with his present state of mind. He fasted and prayed in silence; the recollections of his early years, the passages of the ancient Scriptures which he had never understood, the thoughts of his own cruelty and violence, the memory of the last looks of Stephen,—all these things crowded into his mind during the three days of solitude, and we may imagine one feeling above all others in possession of his heart, the feeling suggested by Christ’s words, “Why persecutest thou Me?"(Conybeare and Howson).


Verse 10

The Visit of Ananias to the Blinded Saul, 10-19.

Acts 9:10. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. It is certain, from the particular description of Saul in Acts 9:11, ‘One called Saul of Tarsus,’ that Ananias did not know him personally. There is nothing positively known of Ananias, except what we read here and in chap. Acts 22:12. He seems to have been one of those upright Jews early converted to the faith of Jesus, and who, after his conversion, was ever zealous in leading a godly life according to the law, and was on that account held in high esteem by the Jewish inhabitants of Damascus. It is merely a tradition which speaks of him as one of the seventy disciples, and which, professing to relate the details of his later life, describes him as subsequently Bishop of Damascus, and eventually a martyr. The name Ananias (Hananiah) is a pure Hebrew one, and is often found in Old Testament history (see Ezra 10:28; Jeremiah 28:1; Daniel 1:6).

To him said the Lord. The Lord who here appears to Ananias is not God the Father, but Jesus Christ. In Acts 9:13, Ananias refers to ‘Thy saints;’ and in Acts 9:14 to ‘all calling on Thy name;’ and in Acts 9:17, in his visit to the blinded Saul, he tells him ‘how the Lord, even Jesus, hath sent him that he (Saul) might receive his sight.’

In a vision. Whether the vision came to Ananias when he was in a dream or awake, cannot be determined. We know too little of the laws which regulate the rare communications of the higher spiritual world with us men. These words: ‘Arise, and go into the street,’ etc., simply direct him to leave his home, and proceed to a certain spot where he could find Saul.


Verse 11

Acts 9:11. the street which is called Straight. In the time when the events related in the ‘Acts’ took place, ‘the main thoroughfare of Damascus was the street called “Straight,” so called from its running in a direct line from the eastern to the western gate. It was a mile long. It was a hundred feet wide, and divided by Corinthian columns into three avenues. . . . Remains of the colonnades and gates may still be traced; but time has destroyed every trace of their original magnificence. At present the street, instead of the lordly proportions which once called forth the stranger’s admiration, has been contracted by successive encroachments into a narrow passage more resembling a by-lane than the principal avenue of a noble city. At a little distance from the west gate is still shown the house of Judas; it is a grotto or cellar considerably under the general surface. Farther along, and near the eastern gate, you turn up a narrow lane to the left, when you come to the house of Ananias, which is also a grotto’ (Lewin’s Life of St. Paul).

Of Tarsus. ‘No mean city.’ It was the most important of all the Cilician cities, and the acknowledged metropolis. Tarsus was originally of great extent, and was built on both sides of the river Cydnus, and from its consisting of two distinct wings, divided by the Cydnus, took the plural name ‘Tarsoi,’ the wings. Its coins tell us the story of its greatness through the long series of years which intervened between Xerxes and Alexander; and at the time when Saul lived under the Roman Government, it bore the title of metropolis, and was ruled by its own citizens, under its own laws. Tarsus at this time was a famous university, and many of the most celebrated teachers at Rome had received their education in this distant Cilician city. It still exists under its old name ‘Tersoos,’ and though its former fame and prosperity have long departed from it, it still possesses some 30,000 inhabitants (see Conybeare and Howson’s St. Paul, chap ii., and Lewin’s St. Paul, chap. 5).

For, behold, he prayeth. This fact of Saul’s praying seems mentioned by the Lord to reassure Ananias. The ‘persecutor ‘was praying to the God of the ‘persecuted.’ So the Lord’s servant might surely look for a favourable reception even from the famous inquisitor Saul.


Verse 12

Acts 9:12. Hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias. The Lord, in relating to Ananias the purport of a vision which Saul had seen, especially mentioned, not that Saul had seen thee, but a man named Ananias. We may thus conclude positively that Saul and Ananias were previously unknown to each other.


Verse 13

Acts 9:13. Lord, I have heard by many of this man. The terrible notoriety acquired by the inquisitor Saul is shown by the answer of Ananias. His words exhibit astonishment, and some little hesitation and timidity. He speaks openly and with childlike trust to his Lord, to whom he was evidently accustomed to open his whole heart. ‘Lord,’ he seems to say, ‘is it possible that I should be sent on a mission of mercy to the chief enemy of Thy people?’

Thy saints. This is the first time that we find this famous name applied to the followers of the Crucified. ‘We have hitherto found them styled “disciples,” “ believers,” “brethren.” Christians are called “saints” in the New Testament in three senses:—(a) Generally as members of a visible and local community devoted to God’s service, and as such united in a common outward profession of faith; (b) more specifically as members of a spiritual community; and (c) in many cases as having personal and individual sanctity. The term probably always hints at the idea of a higher moral life imparted by Christ’ (see Bishop Ellicott on Ephesians 1:1, and on Philippians 1:1).


Verse 14

Acts 9:14. Here he hath authority. No doubt Ananias and the saints at Damascus had received intimation from the Jerusalem brethren of Saul’s mission to their city.


Verse 15

Acts 9:15. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way. The Lord here repeats His command, and calms the troubled mind of Ananias, by telling him that the well-known persecutor had been chosen in the counsels of Eternity to advance in a strange way His great cause.

He is a chosen vessel. The idea, though not the word (here used for vessel), is an Old Testament one: the clay in the potter’s hand to mould or to mar, as it seemed good to the potter; the clay to be fashioned, as it pleased the potter, into vessels of honour or dishonour, as in Jeremiah 18:4; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 45:11.

The words here used by the Lord to Ananias, speaking of Saul as ‘a chosen vessel,’ were no doubt repeated by Ananias to Saul, who, in after days, often uses the same imagery (see Romans 9:21-23; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:20-21).

To bear my name before the Gentiles. This especially was to be the chief work of the God-appointed missionary. How clearly ‘Paul’ subsequently saw that this was his great and special duty, his whole life-work shows us; his words too, as in Galatians 1:15-16. To this mighty end, viz. the giving light to the Gen- the world hitherto shrouded in clouds and thick darkness, Paul and the martyred Stephen were the first to recognise that the whole Jewish scheme was subservient, was but the preparation for it.

Kings. Saul fulfilled this when he appeared before King Agrippa II. and Queen Bernice at Cæsarea, when he stood before the Emperor Nero at Rome, when he pleaded before the tribunals of the Roman governors Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Felix, and Festus.

The children of Israel. It was Paul’s custom first, we know, ever to tell the story of the redemption to the children of Israel in every city where there was a synagogue or congregation of the chosen people.


Verse 16

Acts 9:16. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. As in chap. Acts 20:23, when, in his farewell address at Ephesus, he tells the elders of the Church how the Holy Ghost was witnessing in every city that bonds and afflictions were awaiting him (see also chap. Acts 20:25 and Acts 21:11). The more acutely an apostle suffered for the glory of his Master’s name, the more ardently he toiled for his Master’s cause. Nor did these sufferings come upon these devoted men unawares; they had the inward witness of the Holy Ghost that such a lot surely awaited them: they may not, and this was Paul’s experience, have been able to foresee the exact nature, or to foretell the place and circumstances of the moment of bitter trial, but the suffering seems generally before it came to have flung its dark shadow over the life of men like Paul and his companions. In this particular, in some degree, they resembled then: blessed Master in their foreknowledge of the bitter cup of suffering which would, sooner or later, be presented to them to drain to the dregs.


Verse 17

Acts 9:17. And Ananias went his way. The hesitation, the doubts and fears of Ananias, the Jewish Christian, and his subsequent visit and complete acceptance of the persecutor Saul as a brother saint chosen by the Master for a great and mighty work, are well illustrated by an interesting and beautiful passage in that ancient apocryphal book, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, written most probably very early in the second century between A. D. 100 and A.D. 130 by a Christian Jew, a believer in Jesus, but still zealous for the law of Moses and the traditions of Israel. In the mouth of the dying patriarch Benjamin, the writer puts the following prophecy, which gives a fair idea of the estimation in which the work and labours of Paul were held by the orthodox school of rigid Jewish Christians: ‘I shall no longer be called a ravening wolf on account of your ravages [referring to Genesis 49:27], but a worker of the Lord, distributing goods to those who work that which is good. And there shall arise from my seed in after times one beloved of the Lord, hearing His voice, enlightening with new knowledge all the Gentiles . . . and till the consummation of the ages, shall he be in the congregations of the Gentiles, and among their princes, as a strain of music in the mouth of all. And he shall be inscribed in the Holy Books, both his work and his word, and he shall be chosen of God for ever.’ A very different view of the work of the great Gentile Apostle Paul was taken, as we shall see, very early in the Church’s history by another Jewish Christian school, which, however, goon parted company with the orthodox Church.

Brother Saul. The words of the Master in the vision had done their work with Ananias. He at once proceeded to the house indicated to him in the vision, and going up to the dreaded inquisitor, now blind and humbled, greeted him with love and tenderness as one of the brotherhood of Jesus, and told him he was charged by the One who appeared to him in the way to Damascus to restore his sight, and to bestow upon him the gift of the Holy Ghost.

That appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest. Here Ananias directly refers to the appearance of the glorified Jesus to Saul ‘in the way.’ These and similar declarations are important (see note on Acts 9:3), as in later days Paul, in speaking of the evidences, seems to have attached the deepest importance to the fact that he had seen the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8).


Verse 18

Acts 9:18. There fell from his eyes as it had been scales. A good deal has been written on the nature of the injury which Saul’s eyes had suffered. The blinding glare of the light from heaven which surrounded the glorified Jesus had destroyed the sight, and now it was miraculously restored. Whether or not some scaly substance which had spread over his eyes fell off at the command of Ananias, is of little importance. We know after the Lord met him, and appeared to him in the way near Damascus, the eyes of Saul were sightless. We know, too, after Ananias, acting on the Lord’s command, had laid his hands on him, the power of seeing returned to the sightless eyes.

And was baptized. Most likely in the house of Judas, where Saul was staying. Damascus is abundantly supplied with water. At this day, the Barada (the Abana of the Old Testament) runs directly through the city, supplying the cisterns, baths, and fountains; all the better houses have a reservoir in their court, or stand beside a natural or artificial stream.

The motives which led to the conversion of St. Paul have been often inquired into. Jew and Gentile unbelievers have again and again sought to discover an earthly motive for the change which so suddenly passed over Saul the Pharisee, whose words and works more than any other mere man’s have influenced the fortunes of Christianity. These inquiries date from the earliest times. Epiphanius mentions an old story current among the Ebionites, an heretical sect of Judaising Christians of the second century, which relates how Saul first became a Jew that he might marry the high priest’s daughter, and then became the antagonist of Judaism, because the high priest deceived him. The charge that he was a fanatic or an impostor is a favourite one in all times among the enemies of the faith of Jesus. It is surely impossible to entertain for a moment the idea that he was a fanatic, when we read his letters, and his story in these ‘Acts,’ and consider fairly his calmness, his wisdom, his prudence, his humility. It is still more impossible to conceive that he changed his religion for mere selfish purposes.

Was he moved by the ostentation of learning? He cast aside in a moment all that he had learned from Gamaliel and the great Jewish doctors, after so many years of patient study, and took up the teaching of the unknown Rabbi of Nazareth and His untaught followers.

Was it love of rule which induced him to throw off his old allegiance? He abdicated in a moment the great power which he possessed as a rising and favourite leader of a dominant party in the nation, for a precarious influence over a flock of sheep driven to the slaughter, whose chief Shepherd had been put to a shameful death but a little time before, and all that he could hope from his change was to be marked out in a particular manner for the same fate.

Was it love of wealth? Whatever might be his worldly possessions at the time, he joined himself to those who were for the most part poor, and among whom he would frequently have to minister to his own necessities, and to the necessities of those about him, with the labour of his own hands. Was it the love of fame? His prophetic power must have been greater than that ever possessed by mortal man, if he could look beyond the shame and scorn which then rested on the servants of a crucified Master, to that glory with which Christendom now surrounds the memory of St. Paul.

If, then, the conversion of this man be the act neither of a fanatic nor of an impostor, to what was it due? He himself often answers the question: It arose from a miraculous appearance of Christ, It must be remembered, on this occasion, he was accompanied with others. The time was ‘mid-day,’ the scene a public and much frequented highway. No attempted explanation has ever yet thrown the least doubt upon the plain unvarnished story which Paul told so often to account for the change in his life, viz. that Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified, the Risen One, showed Himself to Paul when on his way to Damascus, and spoke with him face to face, eye to eye (see Conybeare and Howson, St. Paul, chap. iii.).


Verse 19

Acts 9:19. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. The writer in this portion of his history of the ‘acts of Paul’ is very brief. Paul, in his Galatian Epistle (Acts 1:16-18), tells how, shortly after his conversion, he went into Arabia, then returned to Damascus, and after a space of three years went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and the older apostles. In this passage of the ‘Acts’ the Arabian visit is not mentioned (see note on Acts 9:22), but several distinct periods of time are alluded to:—(a) Acts 9:19-21. Certain days, a period immediately succeeding his conversion, when he preached in the Damascus synagogue; (b) Acts 9:23. After that many days were fulfilled, a much longer period, which probably included two years or more; (c) Acts 9:24-26. The close of this more extended period, when the hatred of the Jews compelled him finally to quit Damascus, when he went to Jerusalem. On the question of the Arabian journey referred to in Galatians 1:17, considerable doubt exists as to the meaning of the word ‘Arabia.’ From the time when the word ‘Arabia ‘was first used by any of the writers of Greece and Rome, it has always been a term of vague and uncertain import.

Sometimes it includes Damascus; sometimes it ranges over Lebanon itself, and extends even to the borders of Cilicia (see Conybeare and Howson, St. Paul, chap. iii.). Ewald suggests that the word Damascus (Acts 9:19), used by the writer of the ‘Acts,’ includes this residence in ‘Arabia’ as in a part of the Damascene district or territory, the name of the capital city being used as including all the territory or district of Damascus.

It is, however, possible that Saul, after the first excitement wrought by his conversion had in some measure passed away, longed for solitude, for a time of meditation before setting out on his great life’s work, and in the stillness of the Arabian desert, near the Red Sea, the well-known desert of the wanderings of his fathers, sought and found opportunity for solitary communion with God.


Verse 20

Saul at Damascus.He goes to Jerusalem.Barnabas brings him to Apostles there, 19-30.

Acts 9:20. He preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. According to the best Greek MSS., this should be ‘He preached Jesus,’ etc. As Paul tells us in chap. Acts 26:19, he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but showed first to them at Damascus, and straightway preached in the synagogues. With the vision of the risen Jesus ever before him, his first work was to show his countrymen that Jesus, whom the high priest and Sanhedrim crucified in Jerusalem, was the Son of God. The orthodox Jewish schools, in which Saul the Pharisee had been brought up, all allowed that Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, when He should appear, would be the ‘Son of God.’ What they positively denied was, that the crucified Jesus was the ‘Son of God.’ Now Saul, the persecutor, in broad daylight had seen this crucified Jesus glorified and transfigured; his first and chiefest work then was to tell out to his countrymen this great truth.

The Son of God. This was one of the Jewish titles of Messiah. So Nathanael (John 1:49) addresses Christ, ‘Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel;’ so Peter (Matthew 16:16), ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.’


Verse 21

Acts 9:21. But all that heard him were amazed. The Jews were astonished; they knew the position he had held at Jerusalem; they knew the object of his visit to Damascus; and now they saw him using all his great powers to defend and advance the cause he had come to destroy.


Verse 22

Acts 9:22. But Saul increased the more in strength. Dean Alford regards these as the only words under which can lie concealed the journey to Arabia, His note on this verse is a striking one: ‘Paul mentions this journey with no obscure hint that to it was to be assigned the reception by him of the Gospel which he preached, and such a reception would certainly give rise to the great accession of power here recorded. . . . The omission of any mention of this journey here can only arise from one or two causes:—(1) Whether Paul himself were the source of the narration or some other narrator, the intentional passing over it as belonging more to his personal history than to that of his ministry. (2) On the supposition of Paul not having been the source of the narrative, the narrator having not been aware of it. In either case this expression (increased the more in strength) seems one very likely to have been used—(1) if the omission was intentional, to record a remarkable accession of power to Saul’s ministry without particularising whence or how it came; (2) if it was unintentional, as a simple record of that which was observed in him, but of which the source was to the narrator unknown.’

Proving that this is the very Christ Literally, bringing together, showing the connection between the words of the Old Testament prophets and the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth.


Verse 23

Acts 9:23. After that many days were fulfilled. Some three years probably had now elapsed since the day when Ananias had restored sight to the blinded Pharisee leader; the Damascus preaching and the Arabian journey and sojourn had filled up the period.

The Jews took counsel to kill him. Saul’s great learning and ability made him a most formidable adversary in argument. In bygone years they had murdered at Jerusalem the brilliant Hellenist scholar and orator Stephen (see Acts 7). They now determined to rid themselves of this new and dreaded defender of the faith of Jesus of Nazareth. Chrysostom, in one of his homilies on the ‘Acts,’ remarks: ‘They thought they were rid of argument in such questions in getting rid of Stephen; but they found another more earnest than Stephen.’ Mr. Lewin (St. Paul, chap. v. observes ‘that the present posture of affairs at Damascus offered a favourable opportunity; had the city been subject to Roman jurisdiction, the Jews could not without the fiat of the procurator or prefect have deprived any man of life. But Aretas (see 2 Corinthians 11:32), to whose kingdom of Petra Damascus now belonged, was less careful of public liberties, and in order to conciliate the Jews he had invested their council and chief officer, called the Ethnarch, with supreme power over their own people. A capital charge was therefore made against Saul, and the Ethnarch, as the representative of the Jewish nation, issued a warrant for his apprehension. The gates of Damascus were watched by the Jews day and night to prevent his escape. Saul, as inflexible in the defence of the Gospel as before, through ignorance he had been furious against it, was willing, we cannot doubt, to lay down his life for his creed; but Providence had destined him for many a long year to stand forth as the great champion of the Church, and to carry its standard triumphantly into far remoter regions. The plot against his life was divulged, and the disciples took him, and at midnight let him down through the window of one of the houses built upon the wall. . . . The traditional window through which St. Paul was let down was some years ago demolished by a fanatic Mohammedan.’


Verse 26

Acts 9:26. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem. What must have been Saul’s feelings when, after three years’ absence, he first saw the walls and towers of the Holy City again? He had left Jerusalem as the powerful commissioner of the Sanhedrim council, armed with full powers to root up the heresy spread by the followers of Jesus. He returned to the capital poor, despised, a proscribed outlaw, his brilliant earthly prospects blasted, only burning to preach the Name of the Crucified, whose devoted followers he had once persecuted with so bitter, so relentless a hostility. ‘He might,’ suggests Howson (St. Paul), ‘have again, as he approached the city gates, trodden the very spot where he had so exultantly assisted in the death of Stephen; and he entered then perfectly willing, were it God’s will, to be dragged out through them to the same fate. He would feel a peculiar tie of brotherhood to that martyr, for he could not now be ignorant that the same Jesus, who in such glory had called him, had but a little while before appeared in the same glory to reassure the expiring Stephen. The ecstatic look and words of the dying saint now came fresh upon his memory with their real meaning.’

He assayed to join himself to the disciples, but they were afraid of him. His great object was to see and to converse with Peter, as he tells us years after in the Galatian Epistle: ‘After three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter’ (Galatians 1:18). No doubt the story of the strange conversion of the great Pharisee persecutor at Damascus long ago had reached Jerusalem; but then a considerable period of silence (between two and three years) had intervened, during which time Saul was in retirement and solitude in ‘Arabia.’ The Jerusalem Church, therefore, must have been in a state of great uncertainty and perplexity as to the intentions of their ancient and bitter enemy. Hackett suggests, ‘The sudden appearance of Voltaire in a circle of Christians, claiming to be one of them, would have been something like this return of Saul to Jerusalem as a professed disciple.’


Verse 27

Acts 9:27. But Barnabas took him. Barnabas, a Levite of the island of Cyprus, early a disciple of Christ, and, according to Eusebius and Clement of Alexandria, one of the ‘seventy,’ in the first days after the resurrection held a prominent place in the little Church of Christ. We hear of him as one of the wealthy brethren who sold their land, and gave the price to the apostles for the use of the society (Acts 4:36-37). His influence seems to have been very great in the first councils of the believers in Jesus: a word of his changed the mind of the leaders of the community in regard to the convert Saul of Tarsus. Subsequently associated with Saul, being specially pointed out by the Holy Ghost for the missionary work, he was with him solemnly ordained by the Church, and in the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) the two were specially recognised as apostles of the Gentiles. The Clementine Homilies relate that Barnabas was a disciple of the Lord Himself, and assign to him the conversion of Clement of Rome. The Recognitions even assert that he preached at Rome during the lifetime of the Lord. There is a well-known epistle which bears the honoured name of Barnabas; but although the epistle is undoubtedly the work of the first age of Christianity, and writers of great weight like Clement of Alexandria and Jerome identify the author with the fellow-labourer of St. Paul, still, the best scholars hesitate to attribute this writing which bears his name to Barnabas the apostle.

Brought him to the apostles, viz. to Peter and James, as we learn from Galatians 1:18-19, where Paul, mentioning how during that visit to Jerusalem he abode with Peter, writes: ‘Other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.’ The other members of the apostolic body were at this time most probably absent from the city.


Verse 29

Acts 9:29. And disputed against the Grecians. These Grecians or Hellenists were Jews who, in the ordinary intercourse of life, used the Greek language (see note on Acts 6:1). It has been suggested that these disputes were probably held in the same Cilician synagogue at Jerusalem, of which Saul in old days had been so distinguished a Rabbi, and where he held his famous disputation with Stephen, the martyr deacon.


Verse 30

Acts 9:30. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Cæsarea. The writer of the ‘Acts’ tells us, it was in consequence of the enmity of the Jews, who feared the able and powerful arguments of their former associate, that Paul departed from Jerusalem. Years later, however, Paul himself assigns another reason for his leaving the Holy City: ‘It came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, while I prayed in the Temple, I was in a trance; and saw Him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. . . . Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles’ (Acts 22:17-21). It is not unlikely that, in spite of the dangerous hostility of the Jews which threatened his life, Saul in his enthusiasm would have remained in the city had he not received, as he tells us, a direct warning from heaven.

To Tarsus. There, and in the district of which Tarsus was the chief city, Saul remained until summoned to Antioch by Barnabas for other and grander work (Acts 11:25). We have no record of his labours during this period, the duration of which has been variously estimated. Howson (St, Paul) suggests ‘that, in the synagogues of his native city, Saul was neither silent nor unsuccessful. In his own family one may well imagine that some of those Christian kinsmen whose names are handed down to us (Romans 16:7; Romans 16:11; Romans 16:21), possibly his sister, the playmate of his childhood, and his sister’s son, who afterwards saved his life (Acts 23:17-23), were by his exertions gathered into the fold of Christ.’


Verse 31

Acts 9:31. Then had the churches rest. In the most ancient MSS. the singular form ‘Church’ is found, and there is a reason for the writer of the ‘Acts’ preferring ‘Church’ to ‘churches.’ Here he is viewing the various congregations scattered through the whole length and breadth of the Holy Land as one body joined together with an external bond of union,—the apostles, united by an internal bond, the Holy Ghost, and Christ the One Head.

This general picture of the Church embraces most of the time which had elapsed since the conversion of Saul. Various reasons had conduced to this peace which the Church then enjoyed. The conversion and consequent silence of the chief persecutor, Saul, no doubt for a time paralyzed the counsels of the Sanhedrim in their active measures against the followers of Jesus. The Jewish rulers had also of late other and more pressing dangers to their faith to confront. The Proconsul of Syria, Petronius, wished to introduce the statue of the infamous Emperor Caligula into the Temple of Jerusalem, and for a time there was danger of a general revolt against the Roman power. Caligula’s death put an end to the attempt.

And were edified. That is, kept advancing in the inner religious life. Two consequences are represented as resulting from this period of rest and peace enjoyed by the churches of the Holy Land:—(1) The spiritual life of the individual members was deepened; (2) the numbers of the several congregations were increased.

Walking in the fear of the Lord. A very common Hebrew expression, denoting a habitual course of conduct regulated as far as possible upon principles likely to find favour and acceptance with God. See Isaiah 2:5 : ‘O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.’

And in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. The exact sense of the Greek word translated by ‘comfort ‘is a little doubtful. Perhaps the best and fullest meaning here would be, ‘the power of consolatory discourse conferred by the Holy Spirit on those who preached.’ During the time of peace and quiet, the number of believers was continually receiving additions; while the spiritual life of the individual members was being deepened, as they lived a life as though ever in the Lord’s presence, their faith being strengthened by the words of Divine comfort which the Holy Ghost kept putting into the minds of their preachers.


Verse 32

Certain Acts of St. Peter, Acts 9:32 to Acts 11:18.

Acts 9:32. And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters. In the early chapters of the ‘Acts,’ the writer has given us the details of many circumstances of the life and work of the first chief of the apostles. After the appointment of Stephen, we hear for a long time little or nothing of Peter; but this silence must not lead us to suppose that in the period which succeeded the death of Stephen, some three or more years, Peter in any way occupied a less prominent position than heretofore in the growing Church of Jesus. The plan of the writer of the ‘Acts’ did not after the first years require a detailed account of Peter’s work and preaching; but now the time had come when a new starting-point in the life of the Church of Jesus was to be made. The ‘society,’ which now numbered in its ranks many thousand converts from Judaism, in the Holy Land, Syria, and perhaps even in more distant countries, was to be freed for ever from the trammels with which the Mosaic laws, and the traditionary customs and rites which had grown up in the course of ages round it, had hitherto shackled it. The command, ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6; see, too, Acts 13:46), had been literally complied with, and the new era of the missions of the followers of Jesus to the Gentile world was immediately to commence.

The human instrument of this startling change of policy in the ‘society’ was Peter, hitherto the acknowledged head of the Church of Jerusalem. The writer of the ‘Acts’ takes up the history of Peter at this juncture, and tells us how, in the course of an official circuit of visiting the various Palestinian churches during this interval of freedom from persecution alluded to (Acts 9:30 and note), he came to the Roman city of Cæsarea, where the events which led to the permanent enlargement of the borders of the Church took place. The circumstances which happened at Lydda and Joppa,—places which he visited in the course of this circuit,—may be looked upon as examples of many similar unrelated instances in the great apostle’s early career. They are here recounted in detail, as taking place in the course of the journey which ended in the remarkable and momentous visit to Cæsarea.

It is most probable that this official circuit of Peter took place during St. Paul’s residence in Tarsus (see note on Acts 9:30), after his departure from Jerusalem, and his intercourse with Peter.

Chrysostom observes on this journey of the great apostle: ‘As the commander of an army, he went about inspecting the ranks (to see) which part was compact, which in good order, which required his presence.’

Came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. Lydda was a city of considerable size, about a day’s journey from Jerusalem. It was, previous to the fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, the seat of a very famous Jewish school. St. George, the patron saint of England, was a native of Lydda. In the Mohammedan tradition, the gate of this city will be the scene of the final combat between Christ and antichrist. It was ruined in the Jewish war, but was subsequently rebuilt by the Romans, when it received the name of Diospolis, ‘City of Zeus’ (Jupiter).

In the fourth century it became the seat of a well-known bishopric; it occupied a prominent place in the wars of the Crusaders, who rebuilt the city and strongly fortified it. The new name under which it was known by the Romans, and in early Christian story, has, as is so often the case in Palestine, disappeared; and the modern town, or rather large village, which with its tall minaret is seen by the traveller passing over the plain from Joppa to Ramleh on the old road between Jerusalem and Cæsarea, is known by its ancient name Lidd or Ludd. It was the Lod of the Old Testament (Ezra 2:33).


Verse 33

Acts 9:33. A certain man named Æneas. From the name, which is Greek, Æněas (not to be confounded with the name of the Trojan hero Ænças), the palsied man was probably a Hellenistic Jew.


Verse 34

Acts 9:34. And Peter said onto him, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. The language of Peter to the palsied sufferer is very different from his Master’s in similar cases. The disciple performed his miracle of mercy in the name and power of Jesus Christ. The Redeemer, on the other hand, commanded with Kingly Majesty in such terms as, ‘I will, be thou clean;’ ‘Take up thy bed and walk;’ ‘Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise;’ ‘Lazarus, come forth.’

Arise, and make thy bed. ‘That bed of thine, which hitherto others have made for thee, poor crippled one, from henceforth, restored by the power of my Master, Jesus, make for thyself.’


Verse 35

Acts 9:35. Saron. The Old Testament’ Sharon,’ that beautiful plain extending along the coast of Palestine for some thirty miles between Joppa and Cæsarea. Its singular beauty and fertility are frequently noticed in the poetical books of the Old Testament. So Isaiah, who (Isaiah 35:2) writes of ‘the glory of Lebanon, and the excellency of Carmel and Sharon;’ and King Solomon in the Song of Songs (Acts 2:1) tells us of ‘the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys.’ In the chronicles of the Crusades, ‘the forest of Saron’ was the scene of one of the most romantic adventures of Richard.


Verse 36

Acts 9:36. Now there was at Joppa. Joppa (Hebrew, Japho), a word signifying ‘beauty,’ the port of Jerusalem in the days of Solomon, as it has been ever since. It belonged to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:46), and was originally a Philistine city. Josephus tells us it once belonged to the Phoenicians; and a tradition exists that on the rocks of Joppa, Andromeda was bound and exposed to the monster. At Joppa, in the days of Solomon, the cedar wood and materials for the Jerusalem Temple were landed. It was at this seaport that the prophet Jonah ‘took ship to flee from the presence of his Maker.’ At the period referred to in this chapter, Joppa was a flourishing city, but was ruined in the Jewish war with Rome. We hear frequently of this seaport in the time of the Crusades. Godfrey de Bouillon, Richard of England, and St. Louis of France, in turn resided there for a considerable period. It is still the principal harbour of Palestine, but it is in a decaying state, containing only about 4000 inhabitants. The house of Simon the tanner, where Peter lodged, purports to be shown still.

A certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas. The name Tabitha is an Aramaic form of the Hebrew word signifying ‘gazelle,’ the gazelle being regarded by Jews and Arabs as the standard of beauty. It was, with its Greek equivalent ‘Dorcas,’ a name not uncommon among the Greeks and Hebrews. As at Joppa, a seaport, both the Hebrew and Greek languages were used, it is most likely this woman was known by both names—Tabitha and Dorcas. It is impossible to decide her nationality. She must have been a person of considerable means, and not improbably, from the position she evidently occupied among the disciples of Joppa, belonged to a family of some rank.

Was full of good works and alms-deeds which the did. We gather from this brief notice of the life of Dorcas, and from many other incidental allusions in the ‘Acts’ and Epistles, that the life—recommended by the earliest preachers of Christianity, and certainly led by all the most distinguished members of the society—was eminently a practical and active existence. The disciples seem to have lived, as aforetime, in the world and among men and women; they mixed in the business and harmless pleasures, and shared in the social intercourse of the day; but at the same time they coloured the old life with a new strange beauty, they adorned it with acts of generosity, self-denying love, with sweet gentle deeds of kindness done to slaves, to helpless ones, to poor sick beings of whose existence the busy restless world had hitherto taken no thought. The life of contemplation, of prayerful meditation, was evidently unknown and unheard of in the Church of the first days; such a life was a necessary development of a later age.

This is not the place to consider the advantages and disadvantages to mankind of the life of the solitary and the recluse—a life which possesses in itself, it cannot be denied, much that is beautiful, and which is by no means without its holy influence on the life and work of the busy world; still the careful and thoughtful student of the words and spirit of Jesus and His disciples, as contained in the writings of the New Testament, is obliged to confess that the monastic type of life was never sketched out or imagined by a Peter, a Paul, a James, or by any of their friends or disciples. The Master’s words spoken to His Father on that solemn evening before the day of the Cross, were after all the groundwork of all true Christian theology and life: ‘I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil’ (John 17:15).


Verse 37

Acts 9:37. Whom when they had washed. Maimonides, quoted by Gloag, says: ‘It is the custom in Israel, about the dead and their burial, that when any one is dead, they shut his eyes and wash his body.’ The practice of ‘washing the dead’ was common among the Greeks and the Romans (see Virgil, Æneid, vi. 219). Wordsworth calls attention to this account of the dead Dorcas, being the third instance in this book of reference to the decencies of Christian burial. St. Chrysostom, he goes on to say, contrasts the quietness of this laying out of Dorcas with the great lamentation over Stephen (chap. Acts 8:2). Death, the followers of Jesus had now learnt to regard with greater calmness and joy. See St. Paul’s reproof of immoderate grief for the dead in his earliest Epistle (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

They laid in an upper chamber, where the body of the holy dead might rest quietly till Peter came. The message of Acts 9:38, ‘desiring him that he would not delay to come to them,’ tells us that the disciples of Joppa hoped much from Peter; they certainly had some dim expectation that the great wonder-working friend of Christ would, like Elijah or Elisha among their fathers, or that far greater One than Elijah or Elisha, whom some of them perhaps had seen, be able to restore to them their loved saint who had been setting so fair and bright an example to the Church at Joppa.


Verse 38

Acts 9:38. Lydda was nigh to Joppa. About nine or ten miles was the distance of Lydda from Joopa.


Verse 39

Acts 9:39. The coats and garments. ‘Coats,’ better translated ‘tunics,’ the inner clothing, the word rendered ‘garments’ signifying the outer mantle worn above the tunic.


Verse 40

Acts 9:40. But Peter put them all forth, following the example of Christ (Mark 5:40), to avoid anything like a crowd of curious spectators in the hushed and solemn death-chamber, at the moment when the soul should return to the body. Elisha, when he raised to life the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:33), did the same thing.

Kneeled down, and prayed. So Elijah, when he raised the dead son of the widow of Zarephath, ‘cried unto the Lord,’ and Elisha, in the case of the Shunammite’s son, ‘prayed unto the Lord.’ Jesus, without any preceding prayer, restored to life the son of the widow of Nain and the little daughter of Jairus. In the case of the raising of Lazarus, His action was still more remarkable; then He thanked the Father beforehand for His power over life and death, so confident was Jesus that, though He had laid aside His robe of glory, He still possessed the keys of death and the grave.

Less than ten years had passed since the Resurrection of Jesus (the scene just related, which happened at Joppa, took place A.D. 40, 41), and already one of the great changes Christianity was to work in the world, had been effected in the rapidly-growing company of believers. A ‘new life’ had been pointed out to and quietly adopted by the women of the new society. From the first days which succeeded that glad Pentecost morning when the Holy Spirit fell on the twelve, we have noticed (see the short Excursus B. at the end of chap. 5) the holy influence which the ‘sisters in Christ’ quietly exercised in the Jerusalem Church. Now at Joppa, the relation of the circumstances which led to the great miracle of Peter, casually tells us that another advance in the position of women as fellow-workers for Jesus, had silently been brought about.

At Joppa, a devoted disciple named Dorcas had apparently organized a band of helpers,—widows, perhaps desolate, friendless, homeless ones,—who assisted her in her works of charity and self-denying love. What was taking place at Joppa in the year ‘40,’ no doubt was taking place in Jerusalem, and in many another centre where the religion of Jesus had gathered together a congregation of believers. In this little band of faithful women gathered together in Joppa by Dorcas, we see the germ of that more elaborately-constituted body of female workers at Ephesus alluded to twenty-five years later by St. Paul (1 Timothy 5:9). It is, indeed, a specially interesting episode this visit of Peter to Joppa, for it is the first and earliest mention of the noble work left by the Redeemer to be done by Christian women. It is the first recital of those splendid services of theirs in the holy cause of charity, the record of which will be found to fill so many of the brightest pages of the book of God when it is opened and read before the great white throne.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Acts 9:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/acts-9.html. 1879-90.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology