Acts 11

CHAPTER XI.

Peter returns to Jerusalem, and is accused of having associated

with the Gentiles, 1-3.

He defends himself by relating at large the whole business

concerning Cornelius, 4-17.

His defense is accepted, and the whole Church glorifies God for

having granted unto the Gentiles repentance unto life, 18.

An account of the proceedings of those who were scattered abroad

by the persecution that was raised about Stephen; and how they

had spread the Gospel among the circumcision, in Phoenice,

Cyprus, and Antioch, 19-21.

The Church at Jerusalem, hearing of this, sends Barnabas to

confirm them in the faith, 22, 23.

His character, 24.

He goes to Tarsus to seek Saul, whom he brings to Antioch, where

the disciples are first called CHRISTIANS, 25, 26.

Certain prophets foretell the dearth which afterwards took place

in the reign of the Emperor Claudias, 27, 28.

The disciples send relief to their poor brethren to Judea, by

the hands of Barnabas and Saul, 29. 30.

NOTES ON CHAP. XI.

Verse 1. And the apostles and brethren that were in Judea]

According to Calmet, Judea is here put in opposition to Caesarea,

which, though situated in Palestine, passed for a Greek city,

being principally inhabited by Pagans, Greeks, or Syrians.

Verse 2. Contended with him] A manifest proof this that the

primitive Church at Jerusalem (and no Church can ever deserve

this name but the Jerusalem Church) had no conception of St.

Peter's supremacy, or of his being prince of the apostles. He is

now called to account for his conduct, which they judged to be

reprehensible; and which they would not have attempted to do had

they believed him to be Christ's vicar upon earth, and the

infallible Head of the Church. But this absurd dream is every

where refuted in the New Testament.

Verse 3. Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised] In a Jew, this

was no small offense; and, as they did not know the reason of St.

Peter's conduct, it is no wonder they should call him to account

for it, as they considered it to be a positive transgression of

the law and custom of the Jews. There is a remarkable addition

here in the Codex Bezae, which it will be well to notice. The

second verse of the chapter begins thus:-

Now Peter had a desire for a considerable time to go to

Jerusalem: and having spoken to the brethren, and confirmed them,

speaking largely, he taught them through the countries, (i.e. as

he passed to Jerusalem,) and, as he met them, he spoke to them of

the grace of God. But the brethren who were of the circumcision

disputed with him, saying, &c.

Verse 4. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and

expounded it by order] εξετιθετοαυτοιςκαθεξης. This is the very

style of St. Luke; see his Gospel, Lu 1:3. To remove their

prejudice, and to give them the fullest reasons for his conduct,

he thought it best to give them a simple relation of the whole

affair; which he does, as we have seen in the preceding chapter,

with a few additional circumstances here. See the notes before.

Verse 12. These six brethren] Probably pointing to them, being

present, as proper persons to confirm the truth of what he was

delivering.

Verse 14. Thou and all thy house shall be saved.] This is an

additional circumstance: before, it was said, Ac 10:6, Peter

shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do; and, in Ac 10:32,

who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. But, in Peter's

relation, the matter is more explicitly declared, he shall tell

thee words whereby thou and thy house shall be saved. He shall

announce to you all the doctrine of salvation.

Verse 16. Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.] These words

are very remarkable. The words of our Lord, as quoted Ac 1:5, to

which St. Peter refers here, have been supposed by many to be

referred to the apostles alone; but here it is evident that St.

Peter believed they were a promise made to all Christians, i.e. to

all, whether Jews or Gentiles, who should believe on Jesus Christ.

Therefore, when he saw that the Holy Ghost fell upon those

Gentiles, he considered it a fulfilment of our Lord's promise: ye,

that is, all that will believe on me, shall be baptized with the

Holy Ghost-not many days hence, i.e. in a short time this Spirit

shall be given, which is to abide with you for ever. Hence we

learn that the promise of the Holy Spirit is given to the whole

body of Christians-to all that believe on Christ as dying for

their sins, and rising for their justification.

Verse 17. God gave them the like gift, &c.] Viz. the Holy

Spirit, and its various gifts and graces, in the same way and in

the same measure in which he gave them to us Jews. What was I,

that I could withstand God? It was not I who called them to

salvation: it was God; and the thing is proved to be from God

alone, for none other could dispense the Holy Spirit.

Verse 18. They held their peace] Their prejudices were

confounded; they considered the subject, and saw that it was from

God; then they glorified him, because they saw that he had granted

unto the Gentiles repentance unto life. As the word μετανοια,

which we translate repentance, signifies literally a change of

mind, it may be here referred to a change of religious views, &c.

And as repentance signifies a change of life and conduct, from

evil to good, so the word μετανοια may be used here to signify a

change from a false religion to the true one; from idolatry, to

the worship of the true God. Rosenmuller thinks that, in several

cases, where it is spoken of the Jews, it signifies their change

from a contempt of the Messiah to reverence for him, and the

consequent embracing of the Christian religion.

The Christians who were present were all satisfied with St.

Peter's account and apology; but it does not appear that all were

ultimately satisfied, as we know there were serious disputes in

the Church afterwards on this very subject: see Ac 15:5, &c.,

where Christian believers, from among the Pharisees, insisted that

it was necessary to circumcise the converted Gentiles, and cause

them to keep the law of Moses. This opinion was carried much

farther in the Church at Jerusalem afterwards, as may be seen at

large in Ac 21:21, &c.

Verse 19. The persecution that arose about Stephen] That is,

those who were obliged to flee from Jerusalem at the time of that

persecution in which Stephen lost his life. See Ac 8:1.

Phoenice] Phoenicia, a country between Galilee and Syria, along

the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including Tyre, Sidon, &c. It

is often mentioned as a part of Syria. See Ac 21:2, 3.

Cyprus] An island of the Mediterranean Sea, over against Syria.

See Clarke on Ac 4:30.

Antioch] A city of Syria, built by Antiochus Seleucus, near the

river Orontes; at that time one of the most celebrated cities of

the east. For the situation of all these, see the map accompanying

this book.

Unto the Jews only.] For they knew nothing of the vision of St.

Peter; and did not believe that God would open the door of faith

to the Gentiles. The next verse informs us that there were others

who were better instructed. See below.

Verse 20. Men of-Cyrene] The metropolis of the Cyrenaica; a

country of Africa, bounded on the east by Marmarica, on the west

by the Regio Syrtica, on the north by the Mediterranean, and on

the south by the Sahara. Cyrene is now called Cairoan. This city,

according to Eusebius, was built in the 37th Olympiad, about 630

years before Christ. In consequence of a revolt of its

inhabitants, it was destroyed by the Romans; but they afterwards

rebuilt it. It was for a long time subject to the Arabs, but is

now in the hands of the Turks.

Spake unto the Grecians] ελληνιστας, The Hellenists. Who

these were, we have already seen Acts 6 and Ac 9:29, viz. Jews

living in Greek cities and speaking the Greek language. But,

instead of ελληνιστας, Grecians, ελληνας, Greeks, is the

reading of AD*, Syriac, all the Arabic, Coptic, AEthiopic,

Vulgate, some copies of the Itala, Eusebius, Chrysostom,

Theophylact, and OEcumenius. On this evidence, Griesbach has

admitted it into the text; and few critics entertain any doubt of

the genuineness of the reading. This intimates that, besides

preaching the Gospel to the Hellenistic Jews, some of them

preached it to heathen Greeks; for, were we to adopt the common

reading, it would be a sort of actum agere; for it is certain that

the Hellenistic Jews had already received the Gospel. See Ac 6:1.

And it is likely that these Cyprians and Cyrenians had heard of

Peter's mission to Caesarea, and they followed his example by

offering the Christian faith to the heathen. It is worthy of

remark that the Jews generally called all nations of the world

Greeks; as the Asiatics, to the present day, call all the

nations of Europe Franks.

Verse 21. The hand of the Lord was with them] By the hand, arm,

and, finger of God, in the Scripture, different displays or

exertions of his power are intended. Here it means that the energy

of God accompanied them, and applied their preaching to the souls

of all attentive hearers. Without this accompanying influence,

even an apostle could do no good; and can inferior men hope to be

able to convince and convert sinners without this? Ministers of

the word of God, so called, who dispute the necessity and deny the

being of this influence, show thereby that they are intruders into

God's heritage; that they are not sent by him, and shall not

profit the people at all.

A great number believed] That Jesus was the Christ; and that he

had died for their offenses, and risen again for their

justification. Because the apostles preached the truth, and the

hand of God was with them, therefore, a great number believed,

and turned unto the Lord, becoming his disciples, and taking him

for their portion.

Verse 22. The Church which was in Jerusalem] This was the

original, the mother Church of Christianity; not the Church of

Rome; there were Christian Churches founded in many places,

which exist to the present day, before Rome heard the Gospel of

the kingdom. A Christian Church means a company of believers in

Christ Jesus, united for the purposes of Christian fellowship, and

edification in righteousness.

They sent forth Barnabas] It seems, then, that the Church

collectively had power to commission and send forth any of its own

members, whom it saw God had qualified for a particular work.

There must have been, even at that time, an acknowledged

superiority of some members of the Church beyond others. The

apostles held the first rank; the deacons (probably the same as

those called prophets, as being next chosen) the second; and

perhaps those called evangelists, simply preachers of the truth,

the third rank. Those who knew most of God and sacred things, who

were most zealous, most holy, and most useful, undoubtedly had the

pre-eminence.

Verse 23. Had seen the grace of God] That is, had seen the

effects produced by the grace of God. By the grace of God, we

are to understand: 1. His favour. 2. The manifestations of that

favour in the communication of spiritual blessings. And, 3.

Principles of light, life, holiness, &c., producing effects

demonstrative of the causes from which they sprung. Barnabas saw

that these people were objects of the Divine approbation; that

they were abundantly blessed and edified together as a Christian

Church; and that they had received especial influences from God,

by his indwelling Spirit, which were to them incentives to faith,

hope, and love, and also principles of conduct.

Was glad,] Not envious because God had blessed the labours of

others of his Master's servants, but rejoiced to find that the

work of salvation was carried on by such instruments as God chose,

and condescended to use. They who cannot rejoice in the conversion

of sinners, because they have not been the means of it, or because

such converts or their ministers have not precisely the same views

of certain doctrines which they have themselves, show that they

have little, if any thing, of the mind that was in Christ, in

them.

With purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.] These

converts had begun well; they must continue and persevere: God

gave them the grace, the principle of life and action; it was

their business to use this. If they did not, the gift would be

resumed. Barnabas well knew that they must have the grace of God

in them to enable them to do any good; but he knew, also, that its

being in them did not necessarily imply that it must continue

there. God had taught him that if they were not workers together

with that grace they would receive it in vain; i.e., the end for

which it was given would not be answered. He therefore exhorted

them, τηπροθεσειτηςκαρδιας, with determination of heart, with

set, fixed purpose and resolution, that they would cleave unto

the Lord, προσμενειντωκυριω, to remain with the Lord; to

continue in union and fellowship with him; to be faithful in

keeping his truth, and obedient in the practice of it. To be a

Christian is to be united to Christ, to be of one spirit with him:

to continue to be a Christian is to continue in that union. It is

absurd to talk of being children of God, and of absolute, final

perseverance, when the soul has lost its spiritual union. There is

no perseverance but in cleaving to the Lord: he who in his works

denies him does not cleave to him. Such a one is not of God; if he

ever had the salvation of God, he has lost it; he is fallen from

grace; nor is there a word in the book of God, fairly and honestly

understood, that says such a person shall absolutely and

unavoidably arise from his fall.

Verse 24. For he was a good man] Here is a proper character of a

minister of the Gospel.

1. He is a good man: his bad heart is changed; his evil

dispositions rooted out; and the mind that was in Christ implanted

in him.

2. He is full of the Holy Ghost. He is holy, because the Spirit

of holiness dwells in him: he has not a few transient visitations

or drawings from that Spirit; it is a resident in his soul, and it

fills his heart. It is light in his understanding; it is

discrimination in his judgment; it is fixed purpose and

determination in righteousness in his will; it is purity, it is

love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance, and

fidelity in his affections and passions. In a word, it has

sovereign sway in his heart; it governs all passions, and is the

motive and principle of every righteous action.

3. He was full of faith. He implicitly credited his Lord; he

knew that he could not lie-that his word could not fail; he

expected, not only the fulfilment of all promises, but also every

degree of help, light, life, and comfort, which God might at any

time see necessary for his Church, he prayed for the Divine

blessing, and he believed that he should not pray in vain. His

faith never failed, because it laid hold on that God who could not

change. Behold, ye preachers of the Gospel! an original minister

of Christ. Emulate his piety, his faith, and his usefulness.

Much people was added unto the Lord.] No wonder, when they had

such a minister, preaching by the power of the Holy Ghost, such

a Gospel as that of Jesus Christ.

Verse 25. To Tarsus, for to seek Saul] The persecution raised

against him obliged him to take refuge in his own city, where, as

a Roman citizen, his person was in safety. See Ac 9:29, 30.

Verse 26. He brought him unto Antioch] As this city was the

metropolis of Syria, and the third city for importance in the

whole Roman empire, Rome and Alexandria alone being more eminent,

Barnabas might think it expedient to have for his assistance a

person of such eminent talents as Saul; and who was especially

appointed by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Saul

appears also to have been a thorough master of the Greek tongue,

and, consequently, the better qualified to explain the Gospel to

the Greek philosophers, and to defend it against their cavils.

Barnabas, also being a native of Cyprus, Ac 4:36, where the Greek

language was spoken, was judged to be proper for this mission,

perhaps on this account, as well as on account of his

disinterestedness, holiness, and zeal.

And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.] It

is evident they had the name Christians from CHRIST their master;

as the Platonists and Pythagoreans had their name from their

masters, Plato and Pythagoras. Now, as these had their name from

those great masters because they attended their teaching, and

credited their doctrines, so the disciples were called Christians

because they took Christ for their teacher, crediting his

doctrines, and following the rule of life laid down by him. It has

been a question, by whom was this name given to the disciples?

Some think they assumed it; others, that the inhabitants of

Antioch gave it to them; and others, that it was given by Saul and

Barnabas. This later opinion is favoured by the Codex Bezae, which

reads the 25th and 26th verses thus: And hearing that Saul was at

Tarsus, he departed, seeking for him; and having found him, he

besought him to come to Antioch; who, when they were come,

assembled with the Church a whole year, and instructed a great

number; and there they first called the disciples at Antioch

Christians.

The word χρηματισαι in our common text, which we translate were

called, signifies in the New Testament, to appoint, warn, or

nominate, by Divine direction. In this sense, the word is used,

Mt 2:12; Lu 2:26; and in the preceding chapter of this book,

Ac 10:22. If, therefore, the name was given by

Divine appointment, it as most likely that Saul and Barnabas

were directed to give it; and that, therefore, the name Christian

is from God, as well as that grace and holiness which are so

essentially required and implied in the character. Before this

time. the Jewish converts were simply called, among themselves,

disciples, i.e. scholars; believers, saints, the Church, or

assembly; and, by their enemies, Nazarenes, Galileans, the men

of this way or sect; and perhaps lay other names which are not

come down to us. They considered themselves as one family; and

hence the appellation of brethren was frequent among them. It was

the design of God to make all who believed of one heart and one

soul, that they might consider him as their Father, and live and

love like children of the same household. A Christian, therefore,

is the highest character which any human being can bear upon

earth; and to receive it from God, as those appear to have

done-how glorious the title! It is however worthy of remark that

this name occurs in only three places in the New Testament: here,

and in Ac 26:28, and in 1Pe 4:16.

Verse 27. Came prophets from Jerusalem] Though the term prophet

is used in the New Testament simply to signify a teacher,

(See Clarke on Ge 20:7, where the subject is largely

explained,) yet here it evidently means also such as are under

Divine inspiration, and foretold future events. This was certainly the

case with Agabus, Ac 11:28, though, perhaps, his ordinary character was

that of a teacher or preacher. It seems from various scriptures,

Ro 12:4, &c., 1Co 13:2-14:40, that the prophets of the New

Testament were: 1. Teachers or preachers in general. 2. Persons

who, on special occasions, were under the influence of the Divine

Spirit, and then foretold certain future events. 3. Persons who

recited hymns to the honour of God in the public assemblies of the

Christians. 4. Persons who prayed in those assemblies, having

sometimes the gift of tongues, at other times not. From

Eph 2:20; 3:5, we learn that the

prophets of the Christian Church were inferior to the apostles;

but, from Eph 4:11, we see that they were

superior to all other teachers, even to evangelists and pastors.

Verse 28. Agabus] This prophet, of whom we know nothing, is once

more mentioned, Ac 21:10. He was probably a

Jew, but whether converted now to Christianity we cannot tell.

Great dearth throughout all the world] The words εφοληντην

οικουμενην probably here mean the land of Judea; though sometimes

by this phrase the whole Roman empire is intended. In the former

sense the disciples appear to have understood it, as the next

verse informs us; for they determined to send relief to their

brethren in Judea, which they could not have done had the famine

been general. It does not appear that they expected it to extend

even to Antioch in Syria, where they then were, else they would

have thought of making provision for themselves.

It is well known from history that there were several famines in

the reign of Claudius. Dion Cassius, lib. lx., mentions a severe

famine in the first and second year of the reign of Claudius,

which was sorely felt ln Rome itself. This famine, it is supposed,

induced Claudius to build a port at Ostia, for the more regular

supply of Rome with provisions.

A second famine happened about the fourth year of this reign,

which continued for several years, and greatly afflicted the land

of Judea. Several authors notice this, but particularly Josephus,

Ant. lib. xx. cap. 5, sect. 2, where, having mentioned Tiberius

Alexander as succeeding to the procuratorship in the place of

Cuspius Fadus, he says that, "during the government of these

procurators, a great famine afflicted Judea." επιτουτοιςδηκαι

τονμεγανλιμονκατατηνιουδαιανσυνεβηγενεσθαι.

A third famine is mentioned by Eusebius, in An. Abrahami, which

commences with the calends of October, A.D. 48, which was so

powerful "in Greece that a modius (about half a bushel of grain)

was sold for six drachms," about three shillings and sixpence

English. Vid. Euseb. in Chron. edit. Scalig. The same author

mentions another famine in Rome, in the tenth year of Claudius, of

which Orosius gives the details, lib. vii.

A fourth famine, which took place in the eleventh year of

Claudius, is mentioned by Tacitus, Annal. lib. xii. sect. 43, in

which there was so great a dearth of provisions, and famine in

consequence, that it was esteemed a Divine judgment. Frugrum

quoque egestas, et orta ex ea fames, in prodigium accipiebatur. At

this time, the same author tells us, that in all the stores of

Rome there were no more than fifteen days' provision; and, had not

the winter been uncommonly mild, the utmost distress and misery

must have prevailed.

It may now be inquired, to which of these famines in the reign

of Claudius does the prophecy of Agabus refer? Most learned men

are of opinion that the famine of which Agabus prophesied was that

mentioned above, which took place in the fourth year of this

emperor. A.D. 47. This famine is particularly mentioned by

Josephus, Ant. lib xx. cap. 2, sect. 5, who describes it as "a

very great famine, in which many died for want of food."-"That

Helena, queen of Adiabene, who had embraced the Jewish religion,

sent some of her servants to Alexandria, to buy a great quantity

of corn; and others of them to Cyprus, to buy a cargo of dried

figs, which she distributed to those who were in want." And in

cap. 5, sect. 2, he says that this happened" when Tiberius

Alexander succeeded Cuspids Fadus; and that under these

procurators the famine happened in which Queen Helena, at a vast

expense, procured relief to the Jews." Dr. Hudson's note on this

passage in Josephus deserves to be copied: "This," says he, "is

that famine foretold by Agabus, Ac 11:28, which happened when

Claudius was consul the fourth time, (A.D. 47,) and not that which

happened when Claudius was consul the second time, and Caecina was

his colleague, (A.D. 42,) as Scaliger says, upon Eusebius, p. 174.

Now when Josephus had said, a little after, cap. 5, sect. 2, that

Tiberius Alexander succeeded Cuspius Fadus as procurator, he

immediately subjoins, under these procurators there happened a

great famine in Judea." From this it is evident that this famine

must have continued several years, as it existed under both these

procurators. Fadus, says Mr. Whiston, was not sent into Judea

till after the death of Agrippa, i.e. towards the end of the

fourth year of Claudius, in the end of A.D. 44, or beginning of

45. So that this famine, foretold by Agabus, happened on the

fifth, sixth, and seventh years of Claudius, A.D. 45, 46, and 47.

See Whiston's Josephus; and see Krebs' Observat. in Nov. Test. on

this place.

Verse 29. Then the disciples-determined to send relief] These

were probably Gentile converts; and as they considered themselves

receiving the spiritual blessings, which they now so happily

enjoyed, through the means of the Christians in Judea, they

resolved to communicate to them a portion of their temporal goods;

and every man did this according to his ability, i.e. he gave a

certain proportion of the property with which the providence of

God had entrusted him. The community of goods had for some time

ceased.

Verse 30. And sent it to the elders] These probably mean those

who first believed on Christ crucified, either of the seventy

disciples mentioned Luke, Lu 10:1, or the one hundred and twenty

mentioned, Ac 1:15, or the seven deacons, Ac 6:5. Some have

divided the primitive disciples into three classes: 1. The

αυτοπται, those who were eye witnesses. 2. The απαρχαι, those

who were the first fruits, or converts of the apostles' preaching.

3. The διαδοχοι, those who were the successors of the preceding

from whom they had received the doctrines of the Gospel. It is

likely the deacons are meant, whose office it was to take care of

the poor. See Ac 6:1, &c.

1. AMONG many highly interesting subjects which have come under

review in the preceding chapter, we must have particularly

noticed, 1. The care the Church of Christ took to have young

converts confirmed in the truths they had received, and built up

on their most holy faith, Ac 11:22. It was indispensably

necessary that a foundation should be laid; and it was not less so

that a proper superstructure should be raised. For this work, it

was requisite that different gifts and talents should be employed,

and Barnabas and Saul must be sent to confirm in the faith those

whom the disciples, who had been scattered by the persecution

raised about Stephen, had converted to Christ, Ac 11:19-22. It is

a great thing to have souls converted to the Lord; it is greater

to have them built up on their most holy faith; and few persons,

even among the ministers of Christ, have talents for both. Even

when PAUL planted, it required APOLLOS to water. A frequent

interchange of godly ministers in the Church of Christ is of the

utmost consequence to its stability and increase.

2. It appears that CHRISTIANS was the first general appellative

of the followers of our blessed Lord; and there is presumptive

evidence, as we have seen, that this appellative came by Divine

appointment. How very few of those who profess this religion are

satisfied with this title! That very Church that arrogates all to

itself has totally abandoned this title, and its members call

themselves Roman Catholics, which is absurd; because the adjective

and substantive include opposite ideas: catholic signifies

universal; and Roman signifies of or belonging to Rome. If

it be merely Roman, it cannot be catholic; if it be catholic, it

cannot be confined to Rome; but it is not catholic nor universal,

in any sense of the word, for it contains but a small part of the

people who profess Christianity. The term Protestant has more

common sense in it; but not much more piety. Almost all sects and

parties proceed in the same line; but Christian is a title seldom

heard of, and the spirit and practice of Christianity but rarely

occur. When all return to the spirit of the Gospel, they will

probably resume the appellative of Christians.

3. An early fruit of Christianity was mercy to the poor; and

especially to the poor followers of Christ. He has left the poor

ever with us, as his representatives, to exercise our bowels of

commiseration, and thus teach us to feel and practice mercy. To

every man professing Christianity, the religion of Jesus Christ

says most authoritatively, With every man who is pinched by

poverty, share what the providence of God has not made absolutely

necessary for thy own support. What God has given us more than we

need is entrusted to us for the benefit of those that are in

poverty and affliction. He who can, and does not, help the poor,

is a disgrace to Christianity; and he who does not lend his hand

for the support of the cause of God is a worthless member of the

Church of Christ. He who shows no mercy shall have judgment

without mercy. And he who spends in pampering the flesh what

should be given to the poor shall have a fearful account to give

in the day of the Lord.

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