Acts 4:1-37

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Peter and John were speaking to the people when “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them.” According to fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the priests were “chief priests,” which would include the high priest and prominent priests in his family. The captain of the temple was the official responsible for guarding and maintaining order in the temple precincts, doing so with the assistance of guards from the tribe of Levi. In authority, he ranked next to the high priest. The Sadducees in the group must have been leaders in the Jewish community. In his Antiquities (XVIII, I, 4), Josephus indicates that, though the Sadducees were few in number, they included persons “of the greatest dignity.” Unlike the Pharisees who had popular support, the Sadducees were “able to persuade none but the rich.” (Antiquities, XIII, x, 6) A report about the activity of Peter and John must have reached the highest temple authorities, prompting them to take action. (4:1)

Peter and John, when teaching the people, made known that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and this greatly disturbed the priests, the temple captain, and the Sadducees who arrived on the scene. It was then already evening and so not the time for them to conduct an investigation and take judicial action. Therefore, they arrested Peter, John, and the cured lame man, putting them in custody until the next day. (4:2, 3)

Many of those who heard the message about Jesus Christ became believers. The number of men who put faith in Jesus came to be about 5,000. This may be understood to mean that the community of believers had increased to some 5,000 men, which would have numbered approximately 3,000 before this time. (2:41; 4:4; see the Notes section.)

On the next day, the judicial body (the Sanhedrin) assembled. This was the same Jewish high court composed of Jewish leaders, elders, scribes, and the high priest and prominent members of his family that had decided on the death penalty for Jesus and used their influence to have the Roman governor Pilate authorize death by crucifixion. (4:5, 6)

Among the priests were the chief priest Annas, Caiaphas, John (possibly Jonathan [the name appearing in Codex Bezae] the son of Annas who succeeded Caiapas as high priest), Alexander, and others belonging to the priestly family. At the time, Annas (Ananus) did not function as the high priest. But he had occupied this position formerly and continued to wield great authority in the Jewish community. His son-in-law Caiaphas was then high priest. According to Josephus, five of the sons of Annas (Ananus) became high priests. One of these sons was also named Annas (Ananus), and Josephus identified him as having been “of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders.” (Antiquities, XX, ix, 1) Especially since the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of the dead, they would have been highly annoyed by the teaching of Peter and John about Jesus’ resurrection. (4:6)

Standing before the members of the Jewish high court with the cured lame man, Peter and John were questioned, “By what power or by whose name did you do this?” The objective in raising this question may have been to get them to say something that could identify them as being allied with the powers of darkness (just as Jesus had been falsely accused of being in league with the ruler of the demons). (4:7; Matthew 12:24)

Filled with holy spirit and so courageously and without fear, Peter respectfully addressed the members of the court as “rulers of the people and elders [‘of Israel,’ according to numerous manuscripts].” (4:8) “If today,” Peter continued, “we [he and John] are being interrogated about a good deed for an afflicted man and by whom this [man] has been made whole, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that, in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified [but] whom God raised from the dead, this [man] stands [completely] well before you. This [Jesus] is the stone you builders disdainfully rejected, which [stone] has become the head of the corner. And salvation is in no one else; neither is there another name under heaven given to men by which we are to be saved.” (4:8-12)

Peter and John had performed a “good deed,” freeing a lame man from his affliction. They fearlessly and unhesitatingly identified the one by means of whom the man had been made whole. (4:9)

To all members of the court and to “all the people of Israel [all others of the nation],” the apostles acknowledged having acted “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,” or by the power and authority that he had granted to them. Jesus from the city of Nazareth in Galilee was the very one whom they had crucified through the agency of Pontius Pilate, but God had resurrected him from the dead. Right in front of them, the members of the court had the proof that God had raised Jesus from the dead, for the lame man stood before them as one who had been fully made whole in Jesus’ name. (4:10)

When the members of the court refused to put faith in Jesus Christ and plotted to have him killed, they (as expressed in Psalm 118:22 [117:22, LXX]) proved themselves to be the “builders” who rejected him as a “stone” they regarded as unsuitable for their purposes. God, however, raised him from the dead and highly exalted him, making him the “head of the corner” or the most important stone (either the cornerstone or the head stone). (4:11)

Salvation, or deliverance from sin and the consequences to which sin leads, is only possible through Jesus Christ. In the earthly realm under heaven, no other name exists whereby one would be able to attain to salvation or freedom from sin and condemnation. His is the only name, for God’s means for saving humans from sin and its consequences is exclusively bound up with what he accomplished when voluntarily surrendering his life sacrificially. (4:12)

The boldness of Peter and John took the members of the court by surprise, for the apostles were not learned (as they were), but common, men. Their being designated as “unlettered” may simply mean that they were not regarded as being among the educated who had received rabbinical instruction and not as being illiterate (which aspect could not have been discerned on the basis of their speaking). The members of the court, however, recognized that the apostles had been with Jesus. (4:13) Seeing the cured man standing with Peter and John, they were left with nothing to say in response to their fearlessly spoken words. (4:14)

They commanded that the men be ushered out of the area where the court convened so that the members could confer among themselves. (4:15) Forced to acknowledge that a noteworthy sign had taken place through Peter and John, they were in a quandary about what they should do. Among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the miracle had become public knowledge, and the court simply could not deny it. (4:16) To prevent the spread of what had taken place in the name of Jesus, they decided to threaten the apostles to stop speaking to any man in Jesus’ name. This would have required the apostles to cease proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ whom God had raised from the dead and who had empowered them to perform miracles. (4:17)

Upon being brought back before the court and ordered not to speak nor to teach in Jesus’ name, Peter and John responded fearlessly, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. We, however, cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” The answer made it unmistakably clear that, in obedience to God, they would continue to proclaim the message about Jesus Christ. (4:18-20; see the Notes section on verse 18.)

Again they threatened them but allowed them to leave, for they had no grounds to punish them and they also found it advisable to take the view of the people into consideration. All who had come to know about the miracle “glorified God for what he had done.” Even though the members of the Sanhedrin wanted to stop the apostles from speaking about Jesus, they apparently feared that there would be a serious unfavorable reaction if they punished Peter and John for a miracle that the people considered to be the work of God. The man had been lame from birth and was over forty years of age at the time he was cured. (4:21, 22)

After having been released, Peter and John went to the place where many believers had met. Likely upon learning about the arrest, they had assembled for mutual encouragement and prayer. When they arrived, the two apostles related what the chief priests and elders had said to them. (4:23; compare 1:13, 14; 4:31; 12:12.)

After hearing about the experience of Peter and John, all present united in prayer and, “with one accord, raised their voice to God,” saying, “O Lord [despótes], you who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them.” These words from Psalm 146:6 [145:6] would have been familiar to all of the assembled believers, and so it would not have been unusual for them to unitedly pray as with one voice to God, the Creator of everything. The Greek designation despótes applies to one who has authority over others and so can mean “lord,” “master,” “owner,” or “sovereign.” (4:24; see the Notes section.)

The prayerful expression of the group referred to God’s words expressed through David’s mouth by reason of the operation of his holy spirit. They are quoted as speaking of David as “father,” apparently meaning that he, as the king over all Israel, had a relationship to all of them like that of an ancestor or forefather. Although David had his failings, he remained devoted to God and so is fittingly called his “servant.” (4:25)

All the believers would have been familiar with the words of Psalm 2 as one of the psalms they likely had often sung. “Why did nations rage [phryásso], and peoples meditate [on] vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers assembled together [epí tó autó] against the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text] and against his Christ.” (4:25, 26)

The introductory “why?” [hinatí] suggests surprise, astonishment, or amazement, for the effort of the people and the kings or rulers was doomed to fail. They could not possibly hope to succeed when plotting against God and his “anointed one” or “Christ.” (4:25)

The Greek term phryásso can signify to rage, act tumultuously, or to be insolent. In their opposition to God and his “anointed one,” the nations could be spoken of as acting in anger or rage or in an insolent manner. What they meditated on, contemplated, or plotted was vain or empty, certain to fail. (4:25) In relation to the assembling of rulers against YHWH and his anointed one, the Greek phrase epí tó autó (“on the same”) can mean “together” (“with one another”) or “at the same place.” (4:26)

The words of the psalmist found their fulfillment in the action taken against God’s “holy servant [or ‘child’] Jesus,” whom he had anointed. This anointing was an anointing, not with oil, but with holy spirit, and occurred at the time of Jesus’ baptism. (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18-21; Acts 10:38) The rulers were Herod Antipas and Pilate. When Jesus refused to perform a sign for him, Herod, with his soldiers, made light of him. (Luke 23:8-11) Pilate authorized that Jesus be scourged and crucified. The people of the nations were the Roman soldiers who abused and made fun of Jesus and carried out the scourging and crucifixion, and the people of Israel were the ones who spat upon and slapped Jesus and were involved in handing him over to Pontius Pilate and demanding that he be crucified. (Matthew 26:67, 68; 27:1, 2, 22-31; Mark 14:65; 15:1, 12-20; John 19:1-7, 16) In having been directed against God’s unique Son, the action of Herod Antipas, Pilate and non-Israelites and Israelites constituted a stand against God. (4:27)

Nevertheless, their action proved to be what God’s “hand” and “counsel” had determined beforehand to occur. In this case, God’s “hand” is not representative of his direct activity but of that which he permitted to occur in connection with his Son, and the “counsel” applied to his purpose or will respecting him. Through the death of his Son, he made the arrangement for repentant peoples everywhere to be forgiven of their sins and reconciled to him as his children. (4:28; see the Notes section.)

In view of the threats the Jewish high court expressed to Peter and John in an effort to stop the proclamation of the message about Jesus Christ, the believers prayed that they, as God’s slaves or servants, would be given boldness or courage to speak his “word.” This “word” is the message about his Son. It is his “word,” for it is the message God wanted to be made known. (4:29)

While they would be speaking the “word,” Jesus’ apostles and disciples petitioned God to “stretch out [his] hand for healing” and that “signs and portents” would occur “through the name of [his] holy servant [or ‘child’] Jesus.” God’s “hand” or power would be revealed through the healing of the afflicted, which would confirm that the disciples who were proclaiming the “word” about his Son represented him and had his approval. With the name or person of Jesus Christ being associated with the miracles that served as “signs and portents,” resulting in wonderment or amazement among those who witnessed them, the truth of the message about Jesus would be corroborated. (4:30; see the Notes section.)

After they had completed their supplication, the place where they had assembled was shaken and all of them came to be “filled with holy spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” The shaking of the location proved to be a tangible evidence of the answer to their prayer and the working of God’s spirit. Whereas the holy spirit had been poured out on the apostles and other disciples on the day of Pentecost, they then experienced a special imparting of the spirit that engendered courage or boldness, enabling them fearlessly to proclaim God’s word or message about Christ. They did not need boldness to speak freely to one another, but their speaking with boldness refers to their going forth among the people to do so, not fearing the threats the members of the Jewish high court had made. (4:31; see the Notes section.)

A marvelous unity existed in the community of believers, with all being of “one heart and soul.” They were of “one heart,” having the same desire or purpose in making known the message about Jesus Christ and being concerned about one another as fellow children of God, and they functioned as “one soul” or one united body. As a family of brothers and sisters, they shared all things in common, not considering their possessions as being exclusively for their own use. (4:32; see the Notes section.)

“With great power, the apostles gave testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” This could suggest that their witnessing was accompanied by powerful works of healing and other astonishing miracles. It is also possible that “with great power” denotes that they proclaimed the message fearlessly, courageously, or boldly. Perhaps because of all their good deeds among the people, liberating many from their afflictions, “great favor [from fellow Israelites] was upon all of them.” Another significance could be that they enjoyed God’s favor. Both meanings are found in modern translations. (4:33) “They were all accorded great respect.” (NJB) “All were held in high esteem.” (REB) “God greatly blessed his followers.” (CEV) “God blessed all the believers very much.” (NCV)

On account of the love and unity that existed among the disciples, no one among them lacked the necessities for life. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the proceeds to the apostles. As Peter’s later words to Ananias reveal (5:4), this was strictly voluntary giving. No one was under obligation to sell any of their property nor to give the proceeds of the sale for distribution to the needy. (4:34)

Those who gave deposited the money at the feet of the apostles, committing to them full control of the funds for giving to those in need of material aid. Based on what they knew to be the individual needs, the apostles would distribute the money they had received. (4:35)

One of the disciples who sold a field was Joseph. The apostles gave him the name “Barnabas,” which is defined as meaning “Son of Comfort,” suggestive of his having been a source of kindly aid and consolation to fellow believers. Joseph was of the tribe of Levi and had come originally from the island of Cyprus. After selling the field, he brought the proceeds to the apostles, placing the money at their feet. Likely Barnabas is the only one among the believers who is mentioned by name as having done so is because of his later activity in Antioch and as the apostle Paul’s first travel companion. (4:36, 37; see the Notes section on verse 36.)

Notes:

In verse 4, numerous manuscripts do not include the qualifying “about” in connection with the 5,000. There is also a possibility (as some have concluded) that this number is to be regarded as an addition to the 3,000 who became believers on the day of Pentecost.

In verse 18, a number of manuscripts contain an expanded text that refers to all having agreed to the decision, that is, the decision to threaten them not to speak in the name of Jesus.

After “having heard” (akoúsantes [in verse 24]), fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) adds, “and recognizing the working of God.” After “you,” numerous manuscripts include “God” preceded by the definite article, and this may be translated “you [are] God.”

In the prayer that begins in verse 24, one of apostles or one of the other disciples may have represented all of the believers present, and there is a possibility that, when the familiar words from certain psalms were used, the entire group joined in.

According to a number of manuscripts, the words “in this city” (in verse 27) are not included after the reference to those who were gathered together.

In verse 28, manuscripts read either “counsel” or “your counsel.”

In verse 30, manuscripts variously read “hand” or “your hand.”

At the end of verse 31, fifth-century Codex Bezae (Cantabrigiensis) and a number of other manuscripts add, “to all wanting to believe.”

According to an expanded text of verse 32 contained in a number of manuscripts, “no quarreling at all existed among them,” or “no division existed among them.”

Instead of Joseph (in verse 36), other manuscripts read “Joses.”