In this chapter: Saul’s conversion and Peter healing Aeneas and raising Tabitha from the dead. Thus, Saul and Peter are paired together in different storylines, and clearly Peter is in the lead, for now.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Saul’s Mission to Arrest but Is Himself Arrested (Acts 9:1-9)
1 Meanwhile, Saul, still breathing out murderous threats towards the disciples of the Lord, approached the chief priest 2 and sought from him letters for the Damascus synagogues, so that if he found anyone being of the Way, both men and women, he could bring them bound up to Jerusalem.
3 While he was travelling, it happened. As he neared Damascus, a light from heaven unexpectedly flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” 5 He replied, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting! 6 But get up and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do!” 7 And the men caravanning with him had been standing speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 And Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he saw nothing; and the others hand-led him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was sightless and did not eat nor drink.
This section of Scripture is extremely important for Luke. He repeats it two more times: Paul speaks to a crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3-16) and before king Agrippa (26:9-18). Luke repeats the episode about Cornelius and God’s acceptance of Gentiles three times (Acts 10:1-48, 11:4-18; 15:7-9). And the Lord tells Ananias that Paul will be sent to the Gentiles (v. 15). Further, the narrative that goes from 10:1 to 11:18 is the longest one of a single piece in Acts. Clearly Luke intends his Gentile readers of Acts to understand that God accepts them. Jewish followers of Jesus must also realize the same thing.
For an attempt at harmonizing the three accounts of Paul conversion, click on Acts 22 and scroll down to v. 9.
Verse 1 picks up from 8:3: “Saul was devastating the church, going from household to household, dragging off both men and women and putting them in prison” (Acts 8:3).
“In 9:1-9, Jesus’s glory, revealing his divine identity, physically blinds his spiritually blind persecutor, Saul” (Keener, p. 274).
Arresting and dragging the disciples bound back to Jerusalem is one thing. But it is quite another to issue threats and murders or killings. Saul (later renamed Paul) was a religious fanatic. Later, he said that he voted for the execution for some believers in Jesus (Acts 26:10). So Stephen was the first but not the only martyr (Acts 8:54-60).
Bruce says the chief priest was probably still Caiaphas who left in A.D. 36, so that gives a timeframe. These events were very, very early in the Jesus Movement, also called the Way.
Bruce suggests that Paul models his zeal on that of Phineas (Num. 25:7-13; Ps. 106:30-31); Elijah (1 Kings 18:40; 19:10, 14); and Mattathias (1 Macc. 2:23-28), the father of the Maccabees.
“murderous threats”: it could be translated more literally: “threats and murder,” but it is a hendiadys, which means one idea expressed through two words and connected by “and” in Greek. “Murderous threats” is better.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.” In Acts, it means followers of Jesus (but see v. 25).
Damascus was up north and was six days of travel, by foot. To go that far north demonstrates that Saul was really angry at the Jewish followers of Jesus.
“letters”: it is where we get our word epistle. They were arrest warrants, probably carte-blanche against the Jewish community, who still identified themselves as Jews. They were Messianic Jews who did not say, “I’m a Christian now! I no longer belong to Judaism! You have no authority to arrest me!” Christianity—or more accurately, the Way—and Judaism were very closely linked at this stage. Paul was chasing Jerusalem refugees. I wonder whether they were some priests and their sons and daughters, since a large number of priests converted (Acts 6:7). On the other hand, they were probably Hellenist (Greek speaking) Jews, and these Jews were not priests. Maybe it was both groups, in part.
Schnabel says that Gamaliel, Saul’s mentor, went to Damascus “to ask permission from the governor” (m. ‘Ed. 7.7), probably about one of the great feasts. Then he quotes from Neusner and Chilton: The Mishnah “reflects a time when Gamaliel was a go-between who negotiated the interests of the Temple with the government, demonstrating his role in international Judaism as well as in Jerusalem proper” (Schnabel’s comment on vv. 1-2).
“being of the Way”: that is a literal translation, but other translations correctly have “belonging to the Way.” This is the first time that the noun is used in this sense in Acts. Greek: hodos (pronounced hoh-dohss). It means the “path” or “road.” In Greece today, it is the standard word for street (and road), and you will see street signs with “od.” or St. with the name of the street. John the Baptist, through the OT prophet Malachi, launched the idea: “Prepare the way (hodos) of the Lord!” (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). Jesus said the road (hodos) to life is narrow (Matt. 7:14). And Jesus said he is the way (hodos), the truth, and the life (John 14:16). He is the road way to God. The term reappears in in Acts 19:9, 23, 22:4; 24:14,22; see also 16:17; 18:25-26). Bruce says that similar words are used in a religious sense elsewhere, like in documents of the Qumran community (comment on v. 2). So it looks like the early Christians adapted it for their own purposes.
In this age of pluralism and multiculturalism, don’t be afraid to proclaim the exclusivity of Jesus. You can find some elements in other religions where you can build a bridge (e.g. they also say not to steal), so you do not have to denigrate them through and through. But you will discover that other religions claim exclusivity. Buddhists believe Hindus are wrong; Sikhs believe Hinduism and Islam are shortsighted and deficient. Muslims who know their Quran believe all other religions are wrong and deny, for example, the essential conditions for salvation: the Lordship of Jesus, his Sonship, his crucifixion, and his bodily resurrection. Do I need to keep going on about Islam?
Who were the men and women whom he intended to arrest? Were they just anyone at random? Probably, but remember that a large number of priests had converted to Christ (Acts 6:7). Surely some of them escaped to Damascus. Saul must have targeted them. Further, I like to imagine without a shred of textual evidence, but just the logic of history, that maybe—just maybe—a few of the younger children or the grandchildren of the Sanhedrin (High Council) of Jerusalem also followed the Way. This would be a strong motive for the chief priest and leaders to send Saul all the way to Damascus to fetch them. Call it an early form of “deprogramming.”
Once again Luke mentions women, when he did not have to. If they share equally in arrests and jail time, do they get an equal share in church leadership? Apparently not, according to some restrictive Christians today. But I say they should move forward in ministry.
“unexpectedly”: it can also be translated “suddenly.” But I like the “unexpected” feel to the flashing light. His conversion was such a mighty shock to himself and the church.
Light and flashing in this context can mean a bolt of lightning. It was bright and powerful. It was a glimpse of heavenly glory. If we saw it with our untransformed, unresurrected eyes, we too would be blinded and knocked to the ground. The lightning flash that seemed to remain for a short time was also the manifest presence of God. Never let the naysayers tell you that God does not manifest his presence because he is omnipresent (everywhere). Yes, he is omnipresent, but he also reveals himself in special ways, by opening the heavenly veil a little, as here.
“Saul, Saul!”: A double repetition of a name often indicates a warning or exhortation or a call to stand at attention. Something important is about to be announced. Jesus is stern. Here Saul is getting his comeuppance (or fall-down-ance!). Other double allocutions and responses: “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” (Gen. 22:11); “Jacob, Jacob!” “Here I am! (Gen. 46:2); “Moses, Moses!” “Here I am!” (Ex. 3:4); “Samuel, Samuel!” “Speak for you servant listens” (1 Sam. 3:10); Martha, Martha! (Luke 10:41); Simon, Simon! (Luke 22:31).
“persecuting me”: While Saul was persecuting the church, which is the Body of Christ, he was persecuting Jesus. Jesus identifies with his church that much. And the same goes for you. When you suffer an injustice, God is touched as well. Watch him arise and implement justice for you (Jas. 5:4-9).
Now the mighty Saul is so helpless that his assistants had to hand-lead him into Damascus. That is poetic irony (see below at v. 8).
Saul ate or drank nothing for three days. He was an intense Pharisee, but he was in shock. His world just got rocked. Call it shock and awe.
The scales must have grown over his eyes during this time. They were real, but they also symbolize spiritual blindness. Saul had time to think it over.
“Lord”: It is the direct address of the Greek noun kurios (pronounced koo-ree-ohs). Saul did not know who it was, but since he addressed heaven, “Lord” works here. Or “sir” or “my lord” could also work.
“shall be told you”: this is in the passive voice, so we may be looking at the divine passive, which means that God is the behind-the-scenes subject of the verb. He is the one who will speak to Saul.
“must”: It comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. (Compare the French il faut, “one must” or “it is necessary,” if you know this language.) The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). In Luke it often means divine necessity; that is, God is leading things: Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 12:12; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7; 24:26, 44; Acts 1:16; 1:21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6, 16; 14:22; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 25:10; 27:21; 27:24, 26. Here Paul will await further orders for his next mission. And what a mission it will be (see v. 16)!
Bruce recounts the true story of Sundar Singh who used to bitterly oppose the gospel and mocked it. Then on December 18, 1904, he saw a light and the form of the Lord Jesus Christ. The voice spoke to him in Hindustani “How long will you persecute me? I have come to save you; you were praying to0 know the right way. Why do you not take it?” Singh realized Jesus was alive and fell at his feet and got a wonderful peace and joy, which he had been looking for. He went on to be a great evangelist for the Lord.
Such a confrontation and such a rebuke must have been exceedingly traumatic for Saul. Time would be needed to heal his emotions and to work out the implications of the experience. Both Saul’s later Christian letters and Luke’s second volume reveal something of the process of that development as it went on throughout the rest of his life. But in this supreme revelational encounter, Saul received a new perspective on divine redemption, a new agenda for his life, and embryonic elements of his new Christian theology. (comment on v. 5)
Saul was a changed man. Some people convert rapidly like Saul; other convert gradually.
Who were the men caravanning with Saul? No doubt they were his assistants, but did they get saved with Saul? He quickly gathered disciples (v. 25). It is probable that they were convinced by Saul’s “enlightening” experience and preaching.
Acts 22:7 says the traveling companions did not hear the voice of the one talking. Go to that chapter for a resolution of the apparent contradiction.
Bruce suggests the same thing here and the other accounts in Acts as in John 12:28-29. “Then a voice from heaven came: ‘I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.’ 29 Then the crowd who were standing by and heard it were saying, ‘It was thunder.’ Others were saying, ‘An angel spoke to him.’” (Bruce’s comment on v. 7).
More about poetic irony: it means the great reversal, which ends badly for the powerful and well for the powerless. Saul got warrants for arresting people, even women, so he was powerful. He was extra-zealous as evidenced by his threats of arrests and violence. The Pharisee was so right that he turned into a fanatic. On the other side of the ledger, the disciples of the Way were weaker and tender. They already had their old worldview knocked out of them. Jesus came along and knocked Saul senseless. He fell to the ground, while the disciples rose up and showed him the better way. He thought he was right, and they were wrong, but actually he was wrong, and they were right. He thought he knew the truth, and they were deceived, but actually he was deceived, and they knew the truth. He was blinded and had to be hand-led to Judas’s house, while Ananias saw perfectly well and walked right into Judas’s house.
And that is the ironic reversal. Never write off even the most stubborn fanatic you know. God can still reach him.
“hand-led”: it comes from the Greek verb cheiragōgeō (pronounced khay-rah-goh-geh-oh), and it combines the word cheir– (hand) and the second half means to lead.
Schnabel recounts missionaries in Muslim countries who report that many conversions involve Muslims seeing dreams or visions, which are not the same, exactly, as Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He goes on to say, “This is again both a challenge and a relief—a challenge because churches, missionaries, evangelists, and every Christian must make sure that unbelievers can encounter Jesus (rather than us or our method or our denomination) when they hear the gospel, and a relief because it is Jesus himself, through his Spirit, who convinces people of the truth of the gospel” (p. 459).
GrowApp for Acts 9:1-9
A.. Saul was radically changed, while others are gradually converted (e.g. the twelve apostles during Jesus’s ministry). Where do you fit along this spectrum? Radical or gradual or in between?
Ananias Is Commanded to Pray for Saul (Acts 9:10-16)
10 Now, there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” And he replied, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to Straight Street, and at Judah’s house look for a man named Saul from Tarsus. For, watch! He is praying, 12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias entering and placing hands on him, so he may see again.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I heard about this man from many people and all the injuries he has been doing against your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind everyone who calls on your name.” 15 But the Lord told him, “Go! Because this man is my chosen vessel to carry my name to the nations, kings, and descendants of Israel. 16 For I shall show him everything he must suffer for my name.”
Ananias was a resident of Damascus, not a fugitive from Jerusalem. He had heard from many people that Saul was on the attack; he did not see it firsthand.
“disciples”: see v. 1 for more comments
Jesus’s words to Saul and Ananias reveal that he was looking at both of them at the same time. Saul was in Judas’s house on Straight Street, while Ananias was in his home (presumably). God sees all things at once and simultaneously. He sees where you are and where your concern is. Let’s say you are praying for a relative to come to God. He sees you praying, and he sees where your relative is—right now and at the same time! He even sees your relative in a house whose owner is named (in Saul’s case it was Judas). God is the great and omniscient orchestrator. He is working right now behind the scenes, though you can’t see it. Trust that he is. We serve an awesome God.
“praying”: it is the very common verb proseuchomai (pronounced pros-yew-khoh-my) and appears 85 times. The noun proseuchē (pronounced pros-yew-khay) is used 36 times, so they are the most common words for prayer or pray in the NT. They are combined with the preposition pros, which means, among other things, “towards,” and euchē, which means a prayer, vow and even a mere wish. But Christians took over the word and directed it towards the living God. I like to believe that they leaned in toward him and prayed their requests fully expecting an answer. It is not a mere wish or heartfelt payer to a pagan deity.
Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24; Rom. 8:1); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we pray with our Spirit-inspired languages and our native languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). But that’s what all believers should do; however, too often theory outruns practice. Pray! For a theology on how to respond when God does not answer our prayers, as when James was executed by Herod, see Acts 12 and the Observations for Discipleship section.
Prayer can be (1) for oneself, like overcoming sins and vices in your heart and mind or receiving wisdom from above (James 3:17) and not being double-minded about receiving it (Jas. 1:5-8), but (2) it is also for the needs of the community. It was coming under attack, so prayers were offered. Praying for boldness to reach out and spread the word is wonderful. We should do it more often. (3) Further, prayer brings down the manifest presence of God. God is omnipresent (everywhere) of course, but his presence can make itself felt and experienced. God showed up and shook the place where they were gathered.
Prayer can be visualized like a pebble in a pond, and the ripples go outward. (1) It starts with oneself and one’s needs; (2) then it goes outward to one’s own family and (3) to the Christian community (your home church). (4) It goes out to evangelism and the needs of the world around the community, (5) and finally to parts around the globe. But this prayer here in Acts varies the order, which you may do, if you like. Prayer is ultimately and most deeply a conversation with God.
“vision”: the noun horama (pronounced as it appears and where we get our word panorama). It is mostly translated as “vision,” or it could be a supernatural sight (Matt. 17:19; Acts 10:3, 17, 19; 18:9). You’ll know it when you see it, with no room for misinterpretation. And Renewalists believe that visions still happen today. They get them all the time. It’s biblical. But our visions must be submitted to the written Word because our vision may not be right, but self-serving. In contrast, Scripture has stood the test of time. Your dream or vision has not.
Bruce says Straight Street is still there in Damascus, and so is Judas’s house. It’s a sure thing that it is a tourist attraction, whenever peace settles in the war-torn area (comment on vv. 10-12).
Peterson: “By means of a double vision, with very specific directions, the Lord then brings Saul and Ananias together. This reassures both parties of God’s will in the situation. A double vision in Acts 10 similarly indicates God’s intention that Peter and Cornelius should meet” (comment on vv. 10-12). Also see Keener, p. 280, for a table of Saul’s and Ananias’s double story.
Moses (Exod. 3:1-4:17) and Isaiah (Is. 6:1-13) and Ezekiel (1:1-3:15) were also called by a theophany—or a manifestation of God. (HT: Keener, p. 279).
Saul struck so much fear in the disciples that Ananias argued with the Lord! Jesus did not argue back. He just said, “Go!” Don’t expect to get into a long dialogue with Jesus when he gives you an order. Just do it.
“saints”: This comes from the Greek word hagios (pronounced ha-gee-ohs, with a hard “g” and in “get”) and it literally means “holy ones” or “set apart ones.” God has consecrated and set apart all of his people. Anyone who has experienced salvation and being born again has been made holy to God, set apart for him and away from the world’s pollution, and consecrated to him. Therefore, all believers in Jesus are saints. There is no special class; however, disciples who are at the tip of the spear and suffer persecution need to receive all sorts of honor and respect from those of us on the back lines, sitting comfortably.
“name”: see v. 15 for a closer look at this noun.
Saul had a calling to the “nations” (Gentiles or non-Jews), and even to kings and Jews. He had a double calling, but he was mainly sent to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16 and 2:8; Rom. 11:13) and even kings: Agrippa II (Acts 25:23); Nero (27:24). But he also regularly went into synagogues and preached to Jews (Acts 13:43; 14:1-5; 17:4-12; 18:4-5; etc.). The NT uses “vessel” in a special sense in 2 Cor. 4:7: We carry a treasure in earthen vessels. See also 2 Tim. 2:20-21; Rom. 1:1, 5; 9:20-24; 2 Cor. 11:23-30; Gal. 1:15-16; Eph. 3:7-13).
“name”: this noun stands in for the person—a living, real person. You carry your father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, under the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
Saul had a calling to suffer persecution (not disease or bad eyes or depression), which he described in 2 Cor. 11:23-27.
23 I have worked much harder, in prison more often, more severe floggings, facing death often. 24 Five times I have received forty lashes minus one by Jews, 25 three beatings with rods, once hit with stones, three times shipwrecked; a day and a night I have spent in the deep; 26 traveling on foot often; in danger from rivers, in danger from robbers, in danger from fellow-Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in cities, in danger in the wilderness, in danger at sea, in danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and nakedness …. (2 Cor. 11:23-27, my translation)
He regarded persecution as a sign of an apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). Any persecution suffered for Christ is a sign of God’s favor and the promise of an earnest reward (Matt. 5:11; Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12).
“must”: see v. 6 for more comments, looking for the verb dei.
“name”: see v. 15 for a closer look at this noun.
Ananias knew of Saul’s calling before Saul did!
GrowApp for Acts 9:10-16
A.. Ananias had a difficult assignment—to pray for an enemy of his faith. Have you ever prayed for your enemy or persecutor?
Ananias Prays for Saul Who Boldly Proclaims the Messiah (Acts 9:17-25)
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and as he placed his hands on him, said, “Brother Saul! The Lord sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the road you were traveling on, so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And instantly something like scales fell from his eyes, and he saw again. He got up and was baptized. 19 Then, after eating food, he was strengthened.
He was with the disciples in Damascus for some days. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God!” 21 Everyone who heard him were beside themselves with amazement and were saying, “Isn’t this the man who was devastating those in Jerusalem who called on this name, and has he not come here so that he could bind them and lead them back to the chief priests?”
22 But Saul was growing empowered all the more and stirred up the Jews living in Damascus, as he was demonstrating that this one is the Messiah.
23 As many days drew to completion, the Jews conspired to kill him. 24 But their plot became known to Saul. They even stood by the gates day and night, so that they could kill him. 25 But his disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall, by lowering him in a basket.
This is Paul’s Personal Pentecost; the Jerusalem / Judean Pentecost was in Acts 2:1-4; the Samaritan Pentecost happened in Acts 8:14-17; the Gentile Pentecost will be in Acts 10:44-48; and Pentecost for John the Baptist’s followers will happen in Acts 19:1-7. The Pentecost that launched the others was in Jerusalem / Judea.
At first glance it appears that Ananias commissioned Saul, when he was adamant that no apostle commissioned him (Gal. 1:1, 11-20), yet since Ananias was not an apostle, how do we square the appearance that Ananias commissioned him (see Acts 22:14-16; 26:16-18)? Bruce teaches us that Ananias simply repeated what Jesus told him to say. Ananias was private disciple and a mere mouthpiece; there is no official commission of the same level as what the apostles in Jerusalem could give him. “Ananias uttered the words, but as he did so, it was Christ himself who commissioned Saul to be his ambassador” (comment on v. 17).
“brother Saul”: He is now a full participant in the Christian community, the Way.
“filled with the Holy Spirit”: the Greek verb is pimplēmi (pronounced pim-play-mee or peem-play-mee). It is in the aorist tense and so it signifies and a completed past action. He got what he needed right then. However, v. 18 says nothing about his prayer language, but we know he received it because he himself says so (1 Cor. 14:18). So he either got this gift right then, and Luke does not mention it, or he got it later. Who instructed him in how to receive it later? We don’t know. But I think he got it then, though Luke does not need to mention because he assumes that prayer languages is part and parcel of receiving the Holy Spirit. If an author of a NT book talks about salvation, he does not need to go into details every time. He may have already done that, or he figures the meaning is built into the word. Likewise, Luke does not need to mention this manifestation of receiving the Holy Spirit every single instance. Recall that the Corinthians believed and were baptized, and the verse never says they were filled with the Spirit, but we know they got their prayer languages and were eager to express this God-ordained gift (Acts 18:8).
In Acts, Luke links receiving prayer languages with being filled with the Spirit in three instances:
1.. The 120 disciples at the birth of the church, and many of whom knew Jesus from the beginning or early on (Acts 2:1-4).
2.. Cornelius and his household, who were Gentiles, and they needed their own Pentecost (Acts 10:44-48).
3.. The disciples who believed (in the Messiah), but knew only the baptism of John (Acts 19:1-7).
These three cases seem to serve special purposes, specifically three classes of recipients who would illustrate three broad categories of possible converts to the Jesus Movement or the Way. The church had to be born in power and fire and this speaking gift. Gentiles receiving this gift means that it is open-ended for all Gentiles for all time—you and me. As for John’s converts, some scholars say a million people went out to see John, who had predicted the Messiah would baptize in the Spirit and fire.
However, Paul’s experience proves that Luke does not have to link the fullness of the Spirit and prayer languages every single time. As noted, Paul received the fulness of the Spirit, but his prayer language is not mentioned at that time (Acts 9:17-18). However, we know that he used this gift very often (1 Cor. 14:18).
It is the argument of this commentary that when Luke does not record the gift of prayer languages or prophecies, both Spirit-inspired utterances, one in a language unknown to the speaker, while the other is known, then these gifts still prevailed at key moments in Acts. The Corinthian church is the perfect example. In Acts 18:1-17, Paul ministers in Corinth for at least eighteen months, and nothing is said about the fulness of the Spirit and those two gifts, but the Corinthians had them (and others) in abundance (1 Cor 12-14). Luke expects us to fill his omissions with the power of the Spirit because the entire sweep or context of his book is charismatic. Linking the fullness or baptism of the Spirit with prayer languages in every verse that talks about this fullness would be like Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, intervening to tell his readers on every other page, “Don’t forget! We’re on a whaling ship!” The author assumes the readers know this from the context—from the entire charismatic book of Acts. New Testament narratives are very elliptical (omit things).
In other words, Spirit-inspired languages (archaically called ‘tongues’) belong to all Christians everywhere in the early church. This gift does not need to be shouted from the rooftops in every other verse. It is assumed in the Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered church.
It is similar to his omitting water baptism in key places. Often he does say that new converts got baptized: Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5), Yet in other cases water baptism is not brought up for new converts: Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34). Believe it or not, but during Paul’s and Barnabas’s first missionary journey, Luke does not record even one disciple who got water baptized, even though numerous people were said to have converted. However, we can be sure that every new convert was water baptized. Luke expects us to fill in these omissions. This is why I have nicknamed him Luke “the Omitter” or “the Condenser.”
For more information, please see:
“placed his hands”: In the OT, the ritual of laying on of hands had these functions: it ordained Levites (Num. 8:10); it ordained leaders (Num. 27:18, 22-23); it transferred guilt to the sacrificial animal (Lev. 16:20-21).
In the NT, the ritual transfers healing (Mark 6:5l; Luke 4:40; Acts 28:8); it transfers the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6); it ordains missionaries (Acts 13:3); it ordains church leaders (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).
From those verses, Renewalists believe these things about laying on of hands: (1) hands can be the conduit of the presence and power of God; (2) public acknowledgement that the leaders or friends are close to and support the receiver of the hands; (3) the leaders or friends identify with the receiver; (4) combining all three, it means commissioning. Here it means the fourth.
Further, Renewalists believe those four points because they have seen it happen with their own eyes. And it starts and ends with God, not the human vessel. It is shortsighted for the human vessel to take on the burden that he is the source of the power supply. “Hey everybody! Look at me! I’m powerful, and you’re not!” He is in danger of being shipwrecked.
“baptized”: this means total immersion. So John the Baptist could be renamed “John the Dipper” or “John the Immerser.” When Jesus said that the disciples will be baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), he meant that they will be immersed in the Spirit, in their spirit and soul. We are a package deal, so it is unwise to believe that our spirits our filled, but not our souls. Even our bodies are touched (Rom. 8:11). God loves all parts of us, body, soul, and spirit.
Conversion first. Water baptism second. Water does not save, but Jesus does. Salvation goes beyond initial justification or initially being declared righteous. It involves one’s whole life. And being water-baptized for the washing away of sins means that water symbolically washes away one’s sins.
He stopped his fasting from shock or from his personal intensity. Maybe both. He was a very intense Pharisee, and his whole world was rocked. This motivated him to go on a total fast. Now it had to end.
Gal. 1:15-19 says that Paul went Arabia, while Luke says that Paul spent a short period in Damascus. In his epistles Paul is summarizing major portions of his life. As usual, compressing and stretching time is a legitimate presentation of a sequence of evens in ancient writings. Don’t let the hostile hyper-critics turn molehills into mountains.
See v. 30, below, for a table of events and sequences.
“He is the Son of God!”: or literally, “this one is the Son of God!” This is the only time in Acts that the full title “Son of God” appears. “Jesus is preached as the unique promised one of God; he is certainly seen in a glorified state, given Saul’s experience of him” (Bock comments on vv. 19b-20). How deeply Jesus impacted him! He used to hate the name of Jesus and persecute him through the body of Christ, but now he preaches it. Never write off even the most stubborn man or woman you know.
He seems so versed in the Messiahship of Jesus that it makes me wonder whether Saul really did hear the apostles preaching in Jerusalem, a short time ago, before his conversion experience.
“beside themselves with amazement”: It comes from the one Greek verb existēmi (pronounced ex-ees-tay-mee). The ex- prefix means “out” and the stem basically means “stand.” So I translated it literally. Of course they would be stunned, astounded or confused (other translations of the verb).
Saul transferred his zeal of a Pharisee over to the Way. No doubt Jesus himself revealed some truths to him about Messianic prophecies.
“disciples” see v. 1 for more comment.
Here is Luke in his Gospel: Jesus is talking to Cleopas and an unnamed traveler: “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things about himself” (Luke 24:27).
In this passage Jesus commissions his disciples:
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 And he said to them that in this way it was written that Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and in his name repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses to these things. 49 Now be attentive. I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But you settle in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:45-49)
Paul’s commissioning by Jesus and Paul’s retreat into Arabia (Nabataea) (Gal. 1:17) must have followed a similar pattern, as Jesus explained the Scriptures to him during Paul’s study. Paul also went there to preach.
Note how Peter proclaimed Jesus in Acts 3.
That’s how Paul proclaimed Jesus. In Acts 22:3-16 and 26:9-18, he simply recounted his story—how Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. That’s all you have to do too. Just tell your story of how you met Jesus.
“name”: see v. 15 for a closer look.
“was growing empowered”: those three words come from the one Greek verb endunamaō or endynamaō (pronounced ehn-doo-nah-mah-oh, and the second spelling looks like dynamo!), and it related to the noun dynamis, which almost always means “power.” So I translated it as “empowered,” because the entire context of Acts is about the empowerment of the Spirit, but most translators say some variation of “strengthened.” It is in the imperfect tense, which suggests incomplete or unfinished or ongoing empowerment, so another translation could be “was being empowered.” Saul was continually being empowered. Other meanings, depending on the context: “invigorate, strengthened” “summon up vigor, put forth energy”; “to acquire strength; to be invigorated, be strong.”
“stirred up”: It comes from the Greek verb sugcheō (pronounced soong-kheh-oh), which can also mean “confuse, confound, trouble”; in the passive it means “be amazed and excited.” The point is that his fellow-Jews were getting challenged, compelling them to act. Would they accept Jesus as their Messiah? No, they persecuted him and were about to kill him. The shoe is on the other foot (see vv. 23-25). For us today, just preach Jesus, and leave the results in God’s hands.
“demonstrating”: it comes from the Greek verb sumbibazō (pronounced soom-bee-bah-zoh), and it literally means “put together.” So Saul was putting together Scripture and Christ’s resurrection and appearance to Saul, and proving that Jesus was the Messiah. Other meanings, depending on the context: “bring together, unite,” “hold together; knit together,” “conclude, infer,” “demonstrate, prove”; “instruct, teach, advise.” Here it means “demonstrate” or “prove.” Polhill: Luke described him as “proving” (symbibazō) that Jesus is the Christ. The Greek word means to join or put together and seems to picture his assembling Old Testament texts to demonstrate how Christ fulfilled them. No wonder the Damascene Jews were astounded and totally unable to respond to the skillful interpretations of the former student of Gamaliel” (comment on vv. 19b-22).
Never be afraid to get into a friendly discussion or debate with a skeptic or disbeliever. Please learn about the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from a lot of websites, and study Messianic prophecies. Here is a table of them:
At that link, there is a table of verses in the OT, quoted by the NT. But Jesus also fulfills the themes and types and concepts in the OT, like the entire sacrificial system.
“many days”: Luke is imprecise, but Paul says in Gal. 1:17-20 the following:
17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. (Gal. 1:17-20, NIV)
So Paul says that he stayed in Damascus and then went to Arabia, and back to Damascus. He writes that after three years he went to Jerusalem. There is no sequential or timeline contradictions here. Luke is vague about the timeline and omits Arabia; there is nothing wrong with an ancient historian omitting data points. They did this all the time. Recall my nickname for Luke: “the Omitter” (or “the Condenser”).
Let’s keep going.
Now the shoe is on the other foot! He’s the one who has to flee for his life. He’s in Damascus, and he will reverse the steps of the fugitives he was pursuing and head for Jerusalem. They had been fleeing all over, including Damascus. Everything is reversed. More poetic irony (see above in vv. 3-9, for more information).
“known”: the verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). The verb is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. (Its cognate epiginōskō, pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh is used 44 times).
“disciples” see v. 1 for comments. I note here that this is the only time in Acts that “disciples” means those who follow someone other than the Lord. Already Saul gathered disciples around him. His leadership was anointed of God.
His being lowered through a hole—probably a “window”—is recounted here:
32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. (2 Cor. 11:32-33, NIV)
Aretas IV (the Fourth) (9 B.C. – A.D 40) was a ruler of the Nabataean kingdom (“Arabia”), where Paul spent some time (Gal. 1:17). Aretas oversaw Damascus.
The basket (spuris in Greek and pronounced spoo-reess or spoo-riss) was a large one, and the noun is used only here and in Matt. 15:37; 16:10 and Mark 8:8, 20. See also 2 Cor. 11:33, where Paul describes his narrow escape.
In some life-settings, it is dangerous to proclaim the gospel, such as in the Islamic world. Be careful, and do not feel like a coward if you have to leave the area, when your life is threatened. Saul did here (see Matt. 10:23).
GrowApp for Acts 9:17-25
A.. This is Saul’s personal Pentecost. Have you had yours, so that you were empowered by the Spirit?
B.. Saul grew more and more powerful in his testimony and in his knowledge of the Messiah. How have you grown in your knowledge of God so that you can discuss the gospel message with unbelievers?
Saul Goes to Jerusalem and Barnabas Supports Him (Acts 9:26-30)
26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but all of them were fearing him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and led him to the apostles and narrated to them how on the road he saw the Lord and that he spoke to him and how in Damascus he boldly proclaimed, in the name of Jesus.
28 And so he went with them around Jerusalem, boldly proclaiming in the name of the Lord. 29 He was both speaking and debating with Hellenist Jews, but they were trying to arrest him to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.
Luke omits the data points about going to Arabia and then returning to Damascus. Ancient historians omitted data points all the time. Commentator Schnabel offers this table for Paul’s five visits to Jerusalem and the missionary work in between.
|Year||Occasion for Visit to Jerusalem|
|31/32||Conversion of Saul|
|32-34||Missionary work in Arabia and in Damascus|
|33/34||First visit (Acts 9:26-20), three years after Paul’s conversion|
|34-44||Missionary work in Syria and Cilicia (eleven years)|
|44||Second visit (Acts 11:27-30): taking gifts to the poor, eleven years after the first visit|
|45-47||Missionary work on Cyprus and in Galatia|
|48||Third visit (Acts 15:1-29): Apostles’ Council, three years after the second visit|
|49-51||Missionary work in Macedonia and Achaia|
|51||Fourth visit (Acts 18:22): three years after the third visit|
|52-56||Missionary work in the Province of Asia and visit to Achaia|
|57||Fifth visit (Acts 21:15-17): collection visit, six years after the fourth visit|
|57-61||Arrest in Jerusalem and imprisonment in Caesarea and in Rome|
|Schnabel, p. 455|
The second and third rows are relevant to the verses here. This is an excellent timeline, without being crowded with details. Focused and clear.
Keener produces this table about the parallels between Acts 9:26-39 and Gal. 1:18-19; Rom. 15:19.
|Acts 9:26-30||Gal. 1:18-19; Rom 15:19|
|Paul went from Damascus to Jerusalem (25-26)||Paul went from Damascus to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17-18)|
|Paul met the apostles (27)||Paul met Cephas and James (Gal. 1:18-19)|
|Paul continued in association with the apostles (28)||Paul stayed with Cephas fifteen days (Gal. 1:18)|
|Paul evangelized in Jerusalem, early in his ministry (28-29)||Paul evangelized in Jerusalem, early in his ministry (Rom. 15:19), which fits Luke’s generalizing tendency|
|Paul’s stay was apparently relatively brief (29-30)||Paul’s stay was brief (Gal. 1:18)|
|Keener, p. 287, slightly edited|
Things look good (to me, at least).
Now Keener provides a table for Galatians 1:17-21 and Acts, particularly Chapter 9:
|Events||Acts, esp. ch. 9||Epistles|
|Paul persecuted Christians||7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-2||Gal 1:15-16; 1 Cor 15:9; Phil 3:6; 1 Tim 3:15|
|Conversion outside Damascus||9:3, 19||Gal 1:17 (implied)|
|Encounters Risen Christ||9:3-6||Gal 1:12; cf. 1:15-16; 1 Cor 15:8|
|In Nabatean Arabia||Gal 1:17; 2 Cor 11:32|
|Damascus three years later||9:23 (“Many days later”)||Gal 1:17|
|Escapes from Damascus, lowered in basket through hole in wall||9:25||2 Cor 11:32-33|
|In Jerusalem||9:26-29||Gal 1:18-19|
|In Syro-Cilicia||9:30 (Tarsus); 11:26; 13:1 (Syrian Antioch)||Gal 1:21|
|Syrian Antioch Is Paul’s home base; his ministry accepted on level of Peter’s ministry||11:26; 13:1; 14:26; 15:22-23, 30, 35; 18:22||Cf. Gal 1:21; 2:11 (Paul is well known in Antioch)|
|Outreach to S. Galatia||13:14-14:24||Gal 4:13-14; cf. 1 Cor 16:1, cities in 2 Tim 3:31|
|Judaizers in Antioch||15:1-2||Gal 2:11-14 (implied; events after 2:2-10)|
|Return to Jerusalem (after fourteen years)||15:2 (or 11:30)||Gal 2:1|
|HT: Keener, p. 283|
As for Nabatean Arabia, Keener writes: “Luke either does not know about Paul’s Nabatean sojourn or does not deem it sufficiently relevant to his main account to warrant digression” (p. 283).
Good ol’ Barnabas! He believed in Saul, though the disciples were frightened of the knocked-down persecutor.
“disciples: see v. 1 for more comments.
For a quick study about his life, go to Acts 4:36-37:
“apostles”: Recall that in Gal. 1:17-20, quoted under vv. 23-24, above, that Paul said he saw only Peter and James. Therefore, we should not overly literalize the term apostles here; Luke is speaking generically. Probably many apostles had left Jerusalem and were ministering elsewhere. Luke surely means “apostolic community.”
“boldly proclaimed”: This comes from one Greek verb parrēsiazomai (pronounced pahr-ray-see-ah-zoh-my), and it combines boldness and speech. Paul had been an over-zealous Pharisee, and now his zeal was channeled and tempered by the Spirit towards preaching Jesus.
Please, please, don’t shrink away when you encounter opposition. Jesus was bold when the Pharisees and teachers of the law challenged him. He answered their questions and challenged them right back (Mark 2:6; 2:16; 7:1-5; 8:31; 9:14; 10:33; 11:18, 27-28; 14:1, etc.). People over-interpret his silence before his accusers during his trial (Matt. 27:12-14; Mark 14:60-61; 15:4-5; John 19:8-9). These interpreters don’t take into account that he was destined to give up his life, although he could have asked the Father for twelve legions of angels (Matt. 26:53).
If you find yourself timid before opposition, you can pray every day for the inner strength and anointing and power to stand and not to flag or fold during satanic and broken human attacks. I pray this almost every day, and it works!
You know the Spirit is flowing through you when you have boldness. God has not given you a spirit of fear or timidity (2 Tim. 1:7).
“name”: see v. 15 for a closer look at this noun.
“he went around with them” could also be translated “moving about freely.” Literally it reads, “entering and leaving Jerusalem.”
“boldly proclaiming”: This comes from one Greek verb parrēsiazomai (pronounced pahr-ray-see-ah-zoh-my), and it combines boldness and speech. See v. 27 for a closer look. Paul had been an over-zealous Pharisee, and now his zeal was channeled and tempered by the Spirit towards preaching the name of Jesus.
He was associating with the apostles, going about freely in Jerusalem. He was receiving training form them, and no doubt he was helping them as well.
Please, please don’t back down or get discouraged when you confront opposition. In fact, if you don’t encounter opposition in preaching the gospel, then something is missing from your gospel. You will know when you have the Spirit’s power flowing through you when you are bold. If you get easily intimidated, pray each day for the inner strength and power and anointing to stand and not to fold or flag during satanic or broken human attacks. I pray this almost every day, and it works! God did not make you timid (2 Tim. 1:7).
“name”: see v. 14 for a closer look.
“debated”: It is the Greek word suzēteō (pronounced soo-zay-teh-oh) and can mean “discuss, carry on a discussion,” “dispute, debate, argue.” Don’t be afraid to get into friendly discussions or even debates and disputes with skeptics and disbelievers. We should speak out of a loving concern for the lost, but also there is nothing wrong with speaking with firm convictions and resolve. However far the discussion wanders, bring them back to the resurrection of Jesus, and you can learn about the evidence for it from a variety of websites. Also, learn Messianic prophecies, for they too are effective in your witness. Here is a table for them:
Or you can share your testimony to your coworker or friend or family member. “Here is what Jesus did for me.” If you believe in the ministry of healing, you can pray for a need. Or you can pray for any need he may have. He will appreciate that.
Paul recounts that Jesus himself told him to flee Jerusalem:
17 And it happened that I returned to Jerusalem, and while I was praying in the temple, I was in a trance 18 and saw him speaking to me: “Hurry up. Leave Jerusalem quickly because they shall not receive your witness about me.” 19 And I said, “Lord, they themselves know that I was in synagogue after synagogue imprisoning and beating those believing in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen, a witness for you, was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and keeping the clothes of the ones killing him.” 21 But he said to me, “Go! I shall send you away, far to the Gentiles!” (Acts 22:17-21)
Events changed rapidly. Saul was once allowed to move about freely in Jerusalem, but now his life is threatened. As noted in vv. 23-25, in some life-settings, sharing the gospel can be dangerous, as in the Islamic world. Be careful, and don’t feel like a coward if you have to leave the area. Prudence and safety is always appropriate (see Matt. 10:23).
Recall that Tarsus was Saul’s hometown. God set up a divine appointment for him to go back there so he could testify to his family. Later we learn that he had a sister, and she had a son, and his nephew helped him to escape from Jerusalem (Acts 23:16). Early on, they must have been shocked by his testimony of the lightning bolt and his 180 degrees transformation! It’s important to share the gospel with you family. Pray for open doors. It will reap eternal benefits.
“learned”: it is the verb epiginōskō (pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard as in “get,” and it is used 44 times in the NT). In any case here are the basic meanings, depending on the context: (1) “know exactly, completely”; “know again, recognize”; “acknowledge’; (2) “know, learn, find out, ascertain; notice; perceive, learn of; understand, know, learn to know.” Here the second definition is best.
Bruce says it is difficult to coordinate this passage in Acts with Paul’s words in Galatians. But Luke uses generalizing terms in his account because his source supplied him with them (Comment on vv. 28-30). Bruce further teaches us that Tarsus was a leading city of schools of philosophy, rhetoric, and law. In his younger years, no doubt Saul learned some of the ideas here, particularly the great use of Greek. But he was thoroughly Jewish in upbringing, a Pharisee and a son of a Pharisee. Don’t let anyone tell you that Paul was an uneducated nobody. He was thoroughly trained.
GrowApp for Acts 9:26-30
A.. Barnabas means “son of encouragement.” Have you found someone who is unacceptable to others, yet you encouraged him or her?
B.. You may not be as bold as Saul (or you may be), but how do you share your faith in your own way?
The Church Grows (Acts 9:31)
31 And so the church throughout all of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee enjoyed peace and was being built up and walking in awe of the Lord and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it kept growing.
This verse ends the second of the so-called six “panels” of Acts, each one lasting about five years. Here they are:
1:1 to 6:7
6:8 to 9:31
9:32 to 12:24
12:25 to 16:5
16:6 to 19:20
19:21 to 28:31
But this verse is not to be thrown away as a mere summary or transition. With the gospel coming, peace came too. In the past Judea and Samaria and Galilee were rivals. Now peace reigned after the gospel.
“church”: It is singular here, yet it refers to the various churches in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Jesus’s commission to go into Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth is gradually being fulfilled (1:8). It is stunning how rapidly the gospel was spreading in Israel—may it spread as quickly and widely even today in Israel. The church, wherever it is found, should be unified as one. In Greek it is ekklēsia (pronounced ek-klay-see-ah) and the meaning has roots in both Hebrew and Greek. It literally means “the ones called out” or “the called out” or “the summoned” who gather together. It describes an assembly or gathering.
Let’s look more deeply at the rich term. BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, has a long discussion, but let’s look at only one subpoint.
By far the most Scriptures where ekklēsia appears comes under this definition: “congregation or church as the totality of Christian living and meeting in a particular locality or large geographical area, but not necessarily limited to one meeting place” (Acts 5:11; 8:3; 9:31; 11:26; 12:5; 15:3; 18:22; 20:17; see also 12:1; 1 Cor. 4:7; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 5:16; Jas. 5:14; 3 John 9). “More definitely of the Christians in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1; 11:22; see also 2:47) in Cenchreae (Rom. 16:1); in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1); Laodicea (Col. 4:16; Rev. 3:14); in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1); Colossae (Plm. 1, subscript). Plural churches (Acts 15:41; 16:5; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 7:17; 2 Cor. 8:18, 23; 11:8, 28; 12:13; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 23, 29; 3:6, 13; 22; 22:16); the Christian community in Judea (Gal. 1:22; 1 Thess. 2:14); in Galatia (Gal. 1:2; 1 Cor. 16:1); in Asia (1 Cor. 16:19; Rev. 1:4, 11, 20); in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1).
Please see this post for BDAG’s fuller definition.
Some extra-enthusiastic and super-confident Renewalists say that from this definition, they can “legislate” events to happen (or something). Of course, they overstate the basic meaning of the word outside of the church context. Just because an assembly can legislate in the pagan world does not mean Christians can now do this in the Spirit world. Further, another legislative body was the Council (boulē, pronounced boo-lay), the upper chamber of the rich landowners. They had to approve of the lower chamber’s legislation. If we take the historical context too far, then where is the Council? So, to judge from the historical context, the church as the ekklēsia cannot legislate. Instead, these extra-human-centered Christians should simplify things and ask God for his intervention. Prayer to our loving Father is sufficient, without complications or convoluted trends and ideas that promote human-centered power.
Fellowship is so important for believers. Don’t believe the lie circulating in American society, particularly in social media, that not going to church is good enough. People who skip constant fellowship are prone to sin and self-deception and satanic attacks. We need each other.
This link has a list of the famous “one another” verses, like “love one another.”
Further, since American Christianity is undergoing discussion on the sizes of churches, let me add: the earliest Christian community met either in houses (Acts 2:46) or in Solomon’s Colonnade in Jerusalem (Acts 3:11; 5:12) or a large number in Antioch (11:26), where a large meeting could be held a large gathering—call it a mega-church—and presumably in mid-sized gatherings. Size does not matter, since it varies so widely.
Moreover, I’m not a church planter (or planner), but one thing that impresses me about all those above references, is that the apostles, as they planted churches, were guided by the Spirit—always—and they were also deliberate about setting them up and establishing them. Planning is Scriptural. So wisdom says: listen to the Spirit and plan. Listen as you plan and be ready to drop your plans at a moment notice, when the Spirit says so. God will grow the church as we proclaim the good news.
It looks like the persecution initiated by Saul flamed out, because the church enjoyed peace, not least because Paul converted. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said the disciples will be his witnesses or testifiers in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. It is getting accomplished year by year.
Luke did not have to mention the Holy Spirit here, but it is a major theme in his history. He intends to show the Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered church. This is how we are supposed to look today. No Spirit-filled believer in the pages of Acts behaved in oddball ways, just to draw attention to themselves (and neither did Jesus). Today, however, too many Spirit-filled believers do act oddly when the walk in the Spirit. No, it must “naturally supernatural.”
“awe”: It is the Greek noun phobos (pronounced foh-bohss). The NT authors like this word, using the verb and noun and adjectives (and emphobos, pronounced as it looks) 151 times. It has a wide range of meanings, depending on the context. When the church “fears” the Lord, it does not cower in fear and dreads and runs away, but we are supposed to feel a reverential awe, which speaks of being inspired by an atmosphere charged with the tangible or felt presence of the Holy Spirit. Awe and intimacy go together with the Creator of the universe.
“walking”: this is literally. It could be translated as “lived.” Walking in the fear of the Lord = Living in the fear of the Lord.
“encouragement”: One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is encouragement. Jesus said as much in John 14:26, 26; 15:26; 16:7. The Greek in 9:31 is paraklēsis (pronounced pah-rah-klay-sees), and the Greek in John is paraklētos (pronounced pah-rah-klay-tohs). Both words are related and can mean the following things, depending on the context—or they can mean all of them at the same time.
What do you need from the Spirit? Here are some options: “counselor / counsel,” “advocate (defense attorney),” “helper / help,” “comforter / comfort,” “encourager / encouragement,” and “intercessor / intercession.”
For systematic theology:
GrowApp for Acts 9:31
A.. Without being judgmental, do you belong to a thriving church or a stagnant or self-centered one which does not reach out? How can you help it grow? Maybe by reaching out to people?
Peter at Lydda: The Healing of Aeneas (Acts 9:32-35)
32 And so it happened that Peter went through the entire region and went to the saints living at Lydda. 33 He found there a certain man named Aeneas who for eight years was lying on his bed and who was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and make your bed!” And instantly he got up. 35 All the people living in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
This brief section of Scripture holds some key lessons for those of us who believe in healing today, and we believe in it because Scriptures says so, and we have seen them. It’s that simple.
“went through the entire region”: it looks like Peter is on a preaching tour.
Peter in Lydda. It is good to see the lead apostle outside of Jerusalem, though he was already at Samaria (Acts 8:14-24). But he is still in Israel. Eventually he will expand his ministry horizons and wind up in Rome.
“saints”: see v. 13.
“for eight years”: it could be translated “since he was eight years old.”
Peter saw Jesus heal a paralytic (Mark 2:3-5). He also simply pronounced his healing, though in that case, sin got in the man’s way. Here, however, sin was not mentioned. We have to be careful about working out an unbendable system for causes of disease. They are not always sin-caused (most are not), but natural—the physical world is messed up, including the human body.
In Matt. 8:3-15, a centurion had a servant who was paralyzed and suffering terribly, but the centurion said that Jesus only had to issue a command where he stood at a distance, and the healing would happen. Jesus commended the centurion in the highest terms. And why wouldn’t he? It was a marvelous and faith-filled declaration.
Jesus also commanded a disabled man at the pool of Bethesda to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” “And at once the was cured. He picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:8-9).
When you pray, speak a declaration over the diseased. Don’t pray some flowery prayer: “O thou God, if it be thy will, heal this man.” No. “Aeneas, get up!”
“Jesus Christ heals you”: This is in the present tense: “Jesus Christ is in the process of healing you!” Sometimes healing is a process. However, it has an aorist (past) sense to it. “At this moment, Jesus Christ healed you!”
In this passage and the next one, Peter used their names. It makes me wonder whether we should incorporate this into our healing ministries. It makes things personal. However, Jesus did not often call on names, because there were large crowds around, so this became impossible.
In Peter’s small setting here and in Joppa, it is intimate. If your setting is small, learn the sick person’s name. It shows you care.
Finally, signs and wonders are designed to help the sick down here on earth, but also to give glory to God in heaven. He has broken into the world and is putting things right, slowly, one person at a time, until everything will be put right instantly at the second coming of his Son. Signs and wonders bridge the gap between heaven and earth.
GrowApp for Acts 9:32-35
A.. Have you been healed of a disease? Or have you ever heard of this being done? Tell your story.
Peter at Joppa: The Resuscitation of Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43)
36 Now, in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. She was full of good works and did practical generosity. 37 And it so happened at that time that she became sick and died. They washed and placed her in an upper room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa, and when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him and urged him: “Do not delay to come to us!”
39 So Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they led him to the upper room. All the widows stood by him, weeping and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made when she was with them. 40 Peter shooed them outside and took to his knees and prayed. He turned towards the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” Her eyes opened, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her a hand and stood her up and called the saints and widows. He presented her alive. 42 When it became known throughout all of Joppa, many believed on the Lord.
43 And for many days he lived with a certain Simon the Tanner at Joppa.
This section of Scripture also holds key lessons for those of us who believe in healing and raising the dead today and even seeing people get healed—and some Renewalists have seen the dead raised.
Tabitha is her Hebrew name, and Dorcas is her Greek name. Both mean gazelle.
God counts good works in people’s favor, whether they are saved or not (Acts 10:2-4). Most likely Tabitha was saved. She may have heard about the Messiahship of Jesus from Jerusalemite believers who fled the persecution (Acts 8:1).
“practical generosity”: This comes from the Greek noun eleēmosunē (pronounced eh-leh-ay-moh-soo-nay), which is related the Greek noun mercy. It means “kind act,” then “alms” and “charitable giving.” I translated it in a modern American idiom, because those other older words carry a religious tradition behind them. Tabitha-Dorcas was generous in a practical way; she gave away things she made with her own hands. If she had sold the clothing in the marketplace, then she would have given away the money (see v. 39). Either way, generosity of soul that works out practically catches God’s attention.
“disciple”: see v. 1 for more comments.
“became sick”: it is the verb astheneō (pronounced ahss-then-eh-oh), and it means, depending on the context, “be weak, be sick.” The prefix a– is the negation, and the stem sthen– means “strength” or “strong,” so literally it means “unstrong.” NIV translates it in this way, as it appears throughout the NT: sick, weak (most often), lay sick, disabled, feel weak, invalid, sickness, weakened, weakening. What was her fatal disease? We don’t know. No matter, for she was about to experience a resurrection.
They washed her body according to Jewish custom (see Mishnah Shabbat 23:5).
And here we have another upper room (Acts 1:13). Let’s not make a big thing of it. God knows where you are, regardless of the room or city or nation.
Sometimes you just got to ask. Peter was the lead apostle, so why not go for it? Two men arrived and urged him. The Greek verb is parakaleō (pronounced pah-rah-kah-leh-oh), and it is related to the words discussed v. 31. Here it could also be translated “implored” or “encouraged.”
“disciples”: see v. 1 for more comments.
Peter instantly got up and went with him. No, the text here does not say it explicitly, but we can have no doubt that as he walked to nearby Joppa, he prayed in the Spirit, that is, in Spirit-inspired languages (formerly and archaically called ‘tongues’). Why wouldn’t he? He got it in Acts 2:4, as did the 120, so why would he let it fall into disuse by neglect? It is a wonderful gift from God, designed to build up your inner person and faith (1 Cor. 14:4, 14-15). God gave it. Don’t sneer or forbid or feel ashamed of it (1 Cor. 14:39).
Click on the link:
It takes a lot of work to weave and knit that many items of clothing. She must have worked for numerous hours a day. All of us have seen women who get things done at church, whether cooking big feasts, organizing picnics, distributing food and clothing, or teaching the Bible, and holding leadership positions in church. They are a marvel to behold.
Tabitha-Dorcas belonged to a group of women who shared something in common: widowhood. Back then, women married young, while the men were older. So nature took its course, and the husbands died earlier than their wives. It makes sense that they would bond and help each other. I have observed that womankind can develop special bonds after they overcome “sizing each other up” barriers. (Men have such barriers too.) But these widows did not feel impeded by silly things.
“weeping”: yes, it was natural for them to weep, but Peter could not allow it just before he was about to pray. He saw Jesus override such displays. Specifically, Jesus was going to heal a girl, but she had just died while he was on the way there. When he got there, he did not allow anyone into Jairus’s house except Peter, James, and John, and the child’s mother and father. Seeing all the people were weeping and wailing, he silenced them. “‘Stop wailing,’ he said, ‘she is not dead, but asleep.’ They laughed at him.” No, sorry. Weeping must stop, for faith to arise. We have to look beyond the circumstances and see the answer, the outcome. In front of a small audience inside Jairus’s house, he commanded the girl: “My child, get up!” (Luke 8:51-56, NIV). She did. They didn’t laugh him to scorn anymore. Peter watched and learned.
Peter also saw Jesus resurrect a widow’s only son. A large crowd followed the dead son and mother out of the town to bury him. Jesus approached the bier on which they carried her son. Jesus’s heart went out to them, and he said “Don’t cry.” Then he commanded the dead boy: “‘Young man, I say to you, get up!’ The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” The whole town was filled with awe (Luke 7:11-15).
In Mark 5:41, Jesus raised a little girl from the dead and said to her: “Talitha koum” (“Little girl, get up!”). Here Peter says, Tabitha koum (“Tabitha, get up!”). He commanded, just as his Lord did. He followed Jesus’s example. He did not pray a flowery prayer (see comments on v. 34).
“showing on their persons”: the Greek allows for this translation (Bruce, p. 245). In other words, they were wearing the clothing she made.
“shooed”: the Greek verb is ekballō (pronounced as it looks), and its meaning can even get as strong as “throw out” or “usher out” or “chase out.” I thought about translating it “Peter chased them out of the room,” but skeptics and mockers might over-read it and see Peter as mean. No, he was firm and resolved, just as his Lord was. Sometimes leaders have to take authority over a faithless situation. “He shooed them out” is good enough and gets the meaning across.
“He took to his knees and prayed”: Maybe we have lost such humility. Though the verse does not say it explicitly, we can be sure that a part of his prayer was in the Spirit or in Spirit-inspired languages (archaically and formerly called ‘tongues’). He had this gift, and it builds up one’s spirit and faith. Paul said, “I thank God I speak in Spirit-inspired languages more than all of you” (1 Cor. 14:18). Why would Peter get this wonderful and marvelous and God-ordained gift and not use it throughout his life and ministry? Luke did not need to record such details at every turn. The whole context of Acts demonstrates that the entire church is Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered. He assumed it. See v. 39, near the beginning for references about the benefits of Spirit-inspired languages.
Again, see the link:
For a closer look at praying, see v. 11.
“he took her by the hand”: Jesus did the same thing to the synagogue leader Jairus’s daughter: “He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’ Immediately the girl stood up and walked around” (Mark 5:41-42). So Peter was watching his Lord and modeled his own healing ministry on his, though the sequence is different, which corresponds to the need at the moment. But the point is that he commanded and acted. Why wouldn’t he model the Lord’s ministry? Jesus is the Lord!
“He presented her alive”: Having shooed them out, he called the widows and others back in. It must have been marvelous for the widows, a great time of celebration. Tabitha was alive!
This girl’s resurrection is not the same as Jesus’s resurrection, for his body was transformed and glorified. Her body simply recovered from the dead and when she was older she died, like everyone else of her generation. So we should probably call it a “resuscitation” from the dead.
“saints”: see v. 13.
Of course many in the town believed on the Lord. They witnessed a powerful sign and wonder. Signs and wonders are for the people’s immediate benefit and health, but more so for the glory of God. It shows that he is breaking into the world and putting things right in the physical body.
“believed”: The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Here it is connected to “saved.”
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
Please see my word study on believe and faith:
We will see what happens to Peter in the next chapter. Tanners were of dubious cleanliness since they dealt with dead animal skins. But Peter stayed with him anyway. Luke often mentions the hosts and occupations: For hosts see 9:11; 21:8, 16; 28:7; for occupations see 8:9, 26; 10:1; 13:6–7; 14:13; 16:14, 16; 18:3; 19:24 (HT: Polhill).
Peter is about to get a bigger lesson about clean and unclean things and animals and people that will pleasantly surprise him—or just plain shock him.
GrowApp for Acts 9:36-43
A.. Peter followed Jesus in praying for Tabitha. How has Jesus’s ministry influenced your life?
B.. Have you seen or heard about miraculous resuscitations, similar to the one with Tabitha? What is your response?
Observations for Discipleship
Have you had a life-changing experience with God? You may not have had such a dramatic one as Saul did, with a blinding light, but God intends to impart his Spirit into you.
The blinding light was a glimpse of God’s glory. If we were to it in its fulness with our untransformed, resurrected eyes, we too would be blinded. When we get to heaven by God’s grace after we die, we will have spirit bodies. Then our eyes can handle God’s glory—and maybe when we get there we may not see all of it.
Ananias was sent on a mission by a vision. Renewalists believe they can and do happen today. A little humor, which was not humorous at the time: Ananias argued with the resurrected Jesus! When you get a vision and voice from heaven, you will have no doubt about it, and don’t argue with him. Jesus did not answer back but told him “Go!”
Saul got a revelation about Jesus, and he got a few more, as I count things. He got his gospel of grace and the sacrificial death of Christ that replaces animal sacrifices and nullifies the requirement and need to be circumcised. That is his gospel. But before as he developed and wrote about it in his two epistles to the Galatians and Romans, he simply preached the Messiahship of Jesus, from Messianic prophecies. Please learn them. Here is a table of them:
Jesus not only fulfills the quoted verses in the table at the link, he also fulfills major concepts and patters in the OT, like the entire sacrificial system or all the old covenants.
Saul also told his story about his power encounter with Jesus. You can tell your own story.
He was so effective that he suffered persecution from his fellow Jews, both in Damascus and Jerusalem. He had to escape or flee. Don’t feel like a coward if you have to leave a town in your own ministry or separate from your family if they persecute you. This happens often in Muslim and Jewish orthodox households.
But before he can be accepted by the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas has to lead him right into their presence. Good old Barnabas, the encourager. Are you an encourager?
Never give up on anyone who you think is hopeless and beyond help. God can reach even the most stubborn and hard-hearted. Keep praying!
You can grow in your intimacy with Jesus when you follow him, as Peter followed him. Peter went on a mission to the Mediterranean coast and prays for Aeneas and heals him by God’s power. He did not pray a flowery prayer of maybe of “of it be thy will to heal.” No, he commanded healing. The same goes for Tabitha’s death. He spoke to her lifeless body, and God reenergized it to come back to life. But he did kneel and pray before he commanded the dead body. There is nothing wrong with kneeling on the platform before you pray for the sick.
I believe Peter prayed in the Spirit, that is, in his prayer language. No, the verse does not say it, so some could object that my belief is built on silence. But it is built on the entire atmosphere of Acts, which is super-charged with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Luke does not have to mention everything in detail. The narratives of the NT are elliptical or omit many things.
Here’s the main point to Acts 9 and your growth in Christ. It is filled with God’s sovereignty and power that the church today should experience. You too can experience it today. If you have your prayer language, use it. Don’t let it fall into disuse by neglect. If you don’t have it, God created it and wants you to have everything he has to offer. Seek him for it, and find someone who knows how to lead and prayer for you to receive it.
Click on this link:
Finally, Schnabel, in his theology in application section for Aeneas’s healing and Tabitha’s resuscitation, says that the link between signs and wonders and church growth depends on the power of Jesus. There is no automatic link. Miracles do not automatically lead to conversions and church growth (see Paul’s experience in Lystra in Acts 14:8-18, 19), and the absence of miracles do not hinder conversions and church growth (consider Paul in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:14-49). “Miracles are caused by Jesus’ power and conversions are caused by Jesus’ power.” Then Schnabel wisely notes that Tabitha was not brought back to life because of her good works but because it was the Lord’s will (p. 471).
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.