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Acts 9:1-43 | Werner Bible Commentary

Acts 9:1-43

Submitted by admin on Thu, 2011-03-31 13:50.

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Saul, who had approved of killing Stephen, persisted in his violent opposition to the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. His “still breathing threat and murder” idiomatically expresses his unrelenting threat to put believers to death. (9:1)

Believing Jews and proselytes continued to assemble with fellow Jews and proselytes at the temple in Jerusalem and in the synagogues located in many other cities. Also their faithful adherence to the requirements of the Mosaic law had not changed. (10:14; 18:24-26; 21:20-24) It appears that when Saul came to know about disciples of Jesus Christ among the Jews in Damascus, he took the initiative to go to the high priest (who still may have been Caiaphas) to get letters from him, authorizing action against believers. These letters gave Saul the authority to bring any believers he might find, both men and women, bound to Jerusalem for punishment. The fact that Saul planned to carry out his campaign of persecution in Damascus (135 miles or 217 kilometers northeast of Jerusalem) indicates that he did not want to limit his efforts against believers just to Jerusalem and surrounding areas. The reference to believers as being “of the way” may be understood to denote the way of life based on faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to his example and teaching. (9:1, 2)

When Saul and those traveling with him neared Damascus, a “light [brilliant like the sun (26:13)] from heaven suddenly flashed around him.” (9:3) He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (9:4) Saul replied, “Who are you, lord?” The one speaking then identified himself, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (9:5)

At the time Saul used the designation “lord” he was, according to his own words to Timothy, a persecutor, a blasphemer, and an arrogant man acting in blind ignorance. (1 Timothy 1:13, 14) Therefore, his use of the title “lord” would simply have been as an expression of respectful address. (9:5)

Believers are members of Christ’s body and his “brothers” (children in his Father’s beloved family). He regards what is done to his disciples as being done to him. (Matthew 25:40, 45; 1 Corinthians 12:27) Therefore, when Saul persecuted them, he persecuted Jesus Christ. (9:5)

Jesus instructed Saul to rise and to enter the city of Damascus, where he would be told what he should do. (9:6) The men who had traveled with Saul must have realized that something completely out of the ordinary had occurred, for they stood there speechless. “They heard the voice but did not see anyone.” In a later reference to the same incident, these men are said to have seen the light but not to have heard the voice of the one speaking to Saul. (22:9) So their not hearing the voice may mean that they only heard the sound but did not understand the words being spoken. (9:7; see the Notes section.)

Upon getting up from the ground and opening his eyes, Saul could not see anything. The haughty man who had taken the lead as a persecutor ended up having to be led into Damascus by the hand of those with him. (9:8) He continued to be blind for three days, and during this time he neither ate nor drank anything. (9:9)

A disciple named Ananias resided in Damascus. Upon hearing the Lord Jesus Christ calling out to him in a vision, “Ananias,” he responded, “Look! [Here am] I, Lord.” (9:10)

Jesus directed him to go to the street known as “Straight,” and to look for Saul, a man from the city of Tarsus, who was staying there at the home of Judas. Although Saul had come from Jerusalem, his home city was Tarsus in Cilicia. (9:11; see http://bibleplaces.com/tarsus.htm for pictures of and comments about Tarsus.)

Jesus related to Ananias that Saul had been praying and then, in a vision, had seen a man named Ananias enter the house and “lay his hands on him so that he might see again.” (9:11, 12) Seemingly, Ananias found it hard to understand how it could be that he was being sent to Saul. His response took the form of a mild protest. “I have heard from many about the many hurtful things this man did to your holy ones in Jerusalem [9:13], and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all those who call upon your name.” (9:14)

Saul’s role as a persecutor of Christ’s “holy ones” was known extensively, and Ananias had personally heard the report of many. The disciples belonged to Christ, for he had purchased them with his precious blood. They were “holy ones,” for they had been sanctified or made holy when putting faith in Jesus, being forgiven of their sins, and becoming part of the family of God’s approved children. (9:13)

News about Saul’s priestly authorization either had reached the Jews in Damascus prior to his arrival or had been disclosed to them by those who had accompanied him to the city. Verse 21 indicates that Saul’s purpose in coming to Damascus was common knowledge among the Jews there. Understandably, therefore, Ananias, as part of the Jewish community, also knew about Saul’s intent. (9:14)

Believers called upon the name of Jesus or upon Jesus himself, the person represented by the name. They did so when acknowledging him as their Lord or their rightful Owner who had purchased them with his blood, sacrificing his life for them. (9:14)

Jesus Christ again directed Ananias to go, revealing Saul to be a “chosen vessel” who would bear his name “before nations [Gentiles] and kings and sons of Israel.” Saul would become an instrument in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, proclaiming the message about him to non-Jewish peoples, rulers, and Israelites. As one specially commissioned and sent forth, Saul would bear the “name” of Christ, being identified as belonging to him. (9:15)

“I,” Jesus continued, “will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Much suffering would befall Saul on account of his being in Christ’s service. The former persecutor would come to be the persecuted one when carrying out the commission entrusted to him. It would be for Christ’s name, or for the sake of Christ himself, that Saul would undergo much suffering. (9:16)

Ananias does not appear to have raised any additional objections but left to look for Saul. Having located the home of Judas, he entered the house, laid his hands on Saul, and addressed him, not as an enemy, but as a fellow member of God’s people, saying, “Saul, brother, the Lord, [‘Jesus,’ omitted in in numerous manuscripts] who appeared to you on the way you came, sent me so that you might see again and receive holy spirit.” Evidently not everything that Jesus revealed to Ananias about Saul had been mentioned earlier, for Ananias would otherwise not have known that the Lord Jesus Christ had appeared to Saul on his way to Damascus. (9:17)

Immediately after Ananias had finished speaking, what appeared like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and his vision was restored. “He rose and got baptized,” evidently with Ananias doing the baptizing at a location where water was available. (9:18) As he had not eaten anything for three days (9:9), Saul then partook of food, strengthening himself with nourishment. (9:19)

For some time (literally, “some days” and, according to third-century P45, “many days”), Saul associated with the disciples in Damascus and “immediately” and publicly identified himself as a fellow disciple, proclaiming in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. (9:19, 20)

In his letter to the Galatians (1:17), Saul (Paul) mentions his going to Arabia from Damascus and then returning to the city. In this case, Arabia probably means the Syrian Desert to the east of Damascus. Since the stay in Arabia is not mentioned in the book of Acts, one cannot determine just how “immediately” is to be understood in connection with the start of Saul’s preaching about Jesus in the synagogues. If he went to Arabia subsequent to his baptism to meditate on what his taking up the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ would mean for him, he would have “immediately” started to make known the message about Jesus upon his return to the city. The other possibility is that he “immediately” made public expression of his faith in the synagogues of Damascus and then, for an undisclosed reason, headed to Arabia. This possibility, however, seems less likely, as there does not appear to have been any reason for Saul to have interrupted his stay in Damascus. The initial purpose of his undertaking had been to return to Jerusalem with bound disciples of Jesus Christ, with no hint of any plan to go elsewhere. Still another way to view the time spent in Arabia is to understand Paul to mean that, in his early days as a believer, Arabia was the only place to which he went outside of Damascus. (9:19, 20)

Saul’s preaching astonished those who heard him in the synagogues of Damascus. They recalled that he was the man who, in Jerusalem, had persecuted (literally “ravaged”) those who called on the name of Jesus (or were identified as Jesus’ followers) and that he had come to Damascus to seize believers in Jesus and “lead them bound to the chief priests.” Saul’s “ravaging” refers to his forcing himself into homes, seizing both male and female believers, handing them over to be imprisoned, and casting his vote to have them executed. (9:21; 22:4; 26:9-11)

As time passed, Saul proved to be more “empowered,” probably meaning that he gained greater influence among the Jews and effectiveness in declaring the message about Jesus. He succeeded in “confounding the Jews who were living in Damascus” when he presented the proof to them that Jesus is the promised Messiah or Christ. (9:22; see the Notes section.)

After considerable time had passed (literally, “many days were fulfilled”), the unbelieving Jews consulted together, scheming to kill Saul. He, however, came to know about their plot, either from a fellow believer or someone who was favorably disposed toward him. (9:23)

To assure that Saul could not escape, watch was being kept both day and night at the city gates. Based on Paul’s own mention of the incident (2 Corinthians 11:32, 33), the hostile unbelieving Jews appear to have gained the support of a high official (an ethnarch) who was subject to King Aretas. This high official then seems to have arranged for guarding the city gates so that Paul could not get away (9:24), but “his disciples” (possibly meaning persons who had become believers through his making known the message about the Lord Jesus Christ) helped him to escape. Under the cover of darkness at night, they lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the wall. (9:25; see the Notes section.)

Upon his return to Jerusalem, Saul tried to associate with the community of believers. They, however, were afraid of him, because they just could not believe that he had become a disciple. (9:26) One who accepted him as a fellow believer was Barnabas. He then introduced him to the apostles, telling them that Saul had seen the Lord, that the Lord had spoken to him, and how Saul had boldly spoken “in the name of Jesus” while in Damascus. Saul’s speaking “in” Jesus’ name would have been as a disciple who recognized Jesus as his Lord, the one to whom he belonged. (9:27)

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that he stayed with Peter for 15 days but that he did not see any of the other apostles. He, however, did mention having seen the Lord’s brother James. (Galatians 1:18, 19) Although not one of the “twelve apostles,” James would have been considered to be an apostle of the Jerusalem congregation. This may explain why the Acts account referred to Barnabas as leading Saul to the “apostles,” which could then have been Peter and the Lord’s brother James. (9:27)

According to Paul’s words to the Galatians (1:22), he remained unknown to the various congregations in Judea, and so disciples in Jerusalem appear to have been the only ones who had the opportunity to meet him. On account of the kindly intervention of Barnabas, Saul was able to be “with them,” probably meaning in association with Peter, James, and other disciples. (9:28)

In relation to “them,” Saul’s going in and out has been variously understood. It could mean that he went in and out among the apostles or the believers in Jerusalem. Another possible significance is that, while he was “with them,” he freely went about in and out at Jerusalem, making known the message about Jesus Christ. (9:28) Various meanings are found in the renderings of modern translations. “He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.” (NAB) “Saul now started to go round with them in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord.” (NJB) “After that Saul joined with them in all their activities in Jerusalem.” (J. B. Phillips) “Saul now stayed with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem.” (REB) “Saul stayed with the followers, going everywhere in Jerusalem.” (NCV) “Then the apostles accepted Saul, and after that he was constantly with them in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.” (NLV) “Henceforth Saul was one of them, going in and out of the city.” (Weymouth)

During the time he was in Jerusalem, Saul spoke boldly “in the name of the Lord,” identifying himself as one who had faith in Jesus and presenting evidence that he was indeed the promised Messiah or Christ and the Son of God. (9:28) The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) with whom he spoke and disputed began to oppose him violently and attempted to kill him. (9:29) When the “brothers” (fellow believers) came to know about the danger he faced, they conducted him down to the seaport city of Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Likely Saul traveled to his home city Tarsus by sea, although it is possible that he took an overland route. (9:30; see http://bibleplaces.com/caesarea.htm for pictures of and comments about Caesarea and http://bibleplaces.com/tarsus.htm for pictures of and comments about Tarsus.)

Saul had become the object of murderous hostility, and his violent death could have given rise to an outbreak of persecution such as had occurred subsequent to the stoning of Stephen. With Saul no longer in Jerusalem, the congregation or community of believers in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria came to have peace, a time free from disturbance and vicious attacks from opposers. As a community, believers were built up, flourishing spiritually and growing in number. They “walked in the fear of the Lord,” suggesting that they conducted themselves in a manner that manifested reverential regard for the Lord Jesus Christ and so reflected favorably on him. Additionally, believers benefited from the “comfort” (parakaléo) of the holy spirit, with resultant increase in the number of believers. The Greek word parakaléo is a compound word that literally signifies “to call to one’s side” and can convey a variety of meanings (“request,” “admonish,” “encourage,” “comfort,” “invite,” “strengthen,” and “call for or request aid”). In this context, parakaléo could refer to the help God’s spirit provides in the form of strengthening aid and in enhancing the ability of believers to express and defend their faith courageously, including when faced with interrogating authorities. With the aid made available to them through the holy spirit, the community of believers increased in number. (9:31)

Evidently from Jerusalem, Peter is said to have traveled “through all,” apparently meaning the entire area. Translators have variously rendered the words “through all.” “Peter visited one place after another.” (NJB) “Peter, in the course of traveling about among them all, came down to God’s people living at Lydda.” (J. B. Phillips) “Peter was traveling through all the area.” (NCV) Finally, he came to Lydda (Lod), situated about 22 miles [38 kilometers] northwest of Jerusalem. A group of “holy ones,” fellow believers, lived there. They are called “holy ones,” having been made pure or clean from God’s standpoint because of being forgiven of their sins on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death for them. (9:32)

In Lydda, Peter encountered a man named Aeneas. This paralyzed man had been lying on his cot or mat for eight years. (9:33) Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Rise and make your bed” (or roll up your mat). His being able personally to take care of the cot or mat on which he had been lying and carrying it away would demonstrate that he had been completely cured. In response to Peter’s words, Aeneas did get up immediately. (9:34) A significant number of the inhabitants of Lydda and the maritime Plain of Sharon (literally, “all those inhabiting Lydda and Sharon”) saw Aeneas after he had been restored to soundness of body. The Plain of Sharon extended approximately 40 miles (over 60 kilometers) south of Mount Carmel to the area around Joppa. The cure of Aeneas moved persons to turn to the Lord, putting faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. (9:35)

About 11 miles (c. 18 kilometers) northeast of Lydda lay Joppa, another city where believers lived. One of these disciples was Tabitha (Dorcas, when the Aramaic name Tabitha is translated into Greek), meaning “gazelle.” Tabitha may have been known by both the Aramaic and the Greek name. Another possibility is that Luke chose to translate the name Tabitha for the benefit of the Greek-speaking Theophilus. (1:1) Tabitha proved to be exemplary in generously doing “good deeds” and in rendering compassionate aid to those in need. (9:36; see http://bibleplaces.com/joppa.htm for pictures of and comments about Joppa.)

“In those days,” while Peter happened to be in Lydda, Tabitha died from a serious illness. In preparation for burial, she was bathed and laid in the upper room of the dwelling where she doubtless had lived. (9:37)

In view of the close proximity of Joppa to Lydda, the disciples in Joppa heard that Peter happened to be in Lydda. They sent two men to entreat him to come to Joppa. (9:38) He rose and accompanied them back to the city. The account does not reveal whether the disciples wanted Peter to come to comfort them in view of Tabitha’s death or whether they believed that he might be able to resurrect her from the dead. (9:39)

The two men must have told Peter about her and then led him to the upper room where she was lying. Upon entering the room, many weeping widows came up to him, showing him tunics (inner garments) and robes (outer garments) she had made for them. It is unlikely that they would have brought extra garments along when they came to grieve over the loss of their compassionate friend. These garments would have been tunics and robes they were then wearing. (9:39)

Peter had everyone (the widows and all others who were present) leave the room. He knelt down, prayed, and then, turning to the body, said, “Tabitha, rise!” At that, “she opened her eyes and, seeing Peter, sat up.” (9:40) He extended his hand to her and raised her up, apparently helping her to stand. Peter then called in “the holy ones and the widows,” presenting the living Tabitha to them. The mention of both “holy ones,” or fellow believers, and “widows” may indicate that Tabitha’s kind acts included giving aid to needy persons who were not believers. (9:41)

The resurrection of Tabitha “became known throughout Joppa,” and as a result many put faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (9:42) For a considerable time thereafter, Peter stayed in Joppa, being accommodated by a certain Simon who worked as a tanner. When handling carcasses, tanners would have contracted ceremonial defilement, and a strong stench accompanied the process of converting animal skins to leather. On account of the unpleasant odors, Simon’s house must have been located by the sea at some distance from other dwellings. (9:43; 10:6; see the Notes section regarding the views of ancient rabbis regarding tanners.)

Notes:

In verse 7, the men who had accompanied Saul are said to have been standing. According to the narration of the same event in verse 14 of chapter 26, all of them fell to the ground. It may be that they had already stood up before Jesus Christ told Saul to do so. Understandably, he would have remained on the ground as he continued being addressed.

After the Greek word (in verse 22) that means “was being empowered” (enedynamoúto), a number of manuscripts add that this was “in word.”

In verse 25, the oldest extant manuscripts read “his disciples.” Some have questioned whether this reading is original, as believers are Christ’s disciples. According to other manuscripts, “the disciples” took “him” by night.

Though considering the occupation of a tanner to be essential, the ancient rabbis viewed it as one to be despised. One reason for this was that tanners interacted with women, making leather garments and shoes for them. No tanner could become a king or a high priest. If a woman found that she simply could not tolerate being married to a tanner, she was granted the right to divorce him. A woman could also refuse to enter levirate marriage with a tanner even if her deceased husband had been such.