Conversion of Saul, and Beginnings of His
1. Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and
slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, &c.—The
emphatic "yet" is intended to note the remarkable fact, that up to this
moment his blind persecuting rage against the disciples of the Lord
burned as fiercely as ever. (In the teeth of this, Neander and Olshausen
picture him deeply impressed with Stephen's joyful faith, remembering
passages of the Old Testament confirmatory of the Messiahship of Jesus,
and experiencing such a violent struggle as would inwardly prepare the
way for the designs of God towards him. Is not dislike, if not
unconscious disbelief, of sudden conversion at the bottom of
this?) The word "slaughter" here points to cruelties not yet recorded,
but the particulars of which are supplied by himself nearly thirty
years afterwards: "And I persecuted this way unto the death"
22:4); "and when they were
put to death, I gave my voice [vote] against them. And I
punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to [did my
utmost to make them] blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them,
I persecuted them even unto strange [foreign] cities" (Ac 26:10, 11). All this was before his
2. desired … letters—of
to Damascus—the capital of Syria and
the great highway between eastern and western Asia, about one hundred
thirty miles northeast of Jerusalem; the most ancient city perhaps in
the world, and lying in the center of a verdant and inexhaustible
paradise. It abounded (as appears from Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.20,2) with
Jews, and with Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith. Thither the
Gospel had penetrated; and Saul, flushed with past successes,
undertakes to crush it out.
that if he found any of this way, whether men or
women—Thrice are women specified as objects of his
cruelty, as an aggravated feature of it (Ac 8:3; 22:4; and here).
3. he came near Damascus—so Ac 22:6. Tradition points to a bridge near the
city as the spot referred to. Events which are the turning points in
one's history so imprint themselves upon the memory that circumstances
the most trifling in themselves acquire by connection with them
something of their importance, and are recalled with inexpressible
suddenly—At what time of day, it is
not said; for artless simplicity reigns here. But he himself
emphatically states, in one of his narratives, that it was "about
noon" (Ac 22:6), and
in the other, "at midday" (Ac 26:13), when there could be no deception.
there shined round about him a light from
heaven—"a great light (he himself says) above the brightness
of the sun," then shining in its full strength.
4-6. he fell to the earth—and his
companions with him (Ac 26:14),
who "saw the light" (Ac 22:9).
and heard a voice saying unto him—"in
the Hebrew tongue" (Ac 26:14).
Saul, Saul—a reduplication full of
tenderness [De Wette]. Though his name
was soon changed into "Paul," we find him, in both his own narratives
of the scene, after the lapse of so many years, retaining the original
form, as not daring to alter, in the smallest detail, the overpowering
words addressed to him.
why persecutest thou me?—No language
can express the affecting character of this question, addressed from
the right hand of the Majesty on high to an infuriated, persecuting
mortal. (See Mt 25:45,
and that whole judgment scene).
5. Who art thou, Lord?—"Jesus knew Saul
ere Saul knew Jesus" [Bengel]. The term
"Lord" here is an indefinite term of respect for some unknown but
august speaker. That Saul saw as well as heard this glorious
Speaker, is expressly said by Ananias (Ac 9:17; 22:14), by Barnabas (Ac 9:27), and by himself (Ac 26:16); and in claiming apostleship, he
explicitly states that he had "seen the Lord" (1Co 9:1; 15:8), which can refer only to this
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest—The
"I" and "thou" here are touchingly emphatic in the original; while the
term "Jesus" is purposely chosen, to
convey to him the thrilling information that the hated name which he
sought to hunt down—"the Nazarene," as it is in Ac 22:8—was now speaking to him from
the skies, "crowned with glory and honor" (see Ac 26:9).
It is hard for thee to kick against the
pricks—The metaphor of an ox, only driving the goad deeper by
kicking against it, is a classic one, and here forcibly expresses, not
only the vanity of all his measures for crushing the Gospel, but the
deeper wound which every such effort inflicted upon himself.
6. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord,
what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said—(The most
ancient manuscripts and versions of the New Testament lack all these
words here [including the last clause of Ac 9:5]; but they occur in Ac 26:14 and
Ac 22:10, from which they
appear to have been inserted here). The question, "What shall I do,
Lord?" or, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" indicates a state of
mind singularly interesting (see on Ac 2:37). Its
elements seem to be these: (1) Resistless conviction that "Jesus whom
he persecuted," now speaking to him, was "Christ the Lord." (See on Ga 1:15, 16). (2) As a consequence of this, that not
only all his religious views, but his whole religious character, had
been an entire mistake; that he was up to that moment fundamentally and
wholly wrong. (3) That though his whole future was now a blank, he had
absolute confidence in Him who had so tenderly arrested him in his
blind career, and was ready both to take in all His teaching and to
carry out all His directions. (For more, see on Ac
Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be
told thee, &c.—See on Ac
7. the men … stood speechless—This
may mean merely that they remained so; but if the standing
posture be intended, we have only to suppose that though at first they
"all fell to the earth" (Ac 26:14),
they arose of their own accord while Saul yet lay prostrate.
hearing a—rather "the"
voice—Paul himself says, "they heard
not the voice of Him that spake to me" (Ac 22:9). But just as "the people that stood by
heard" the voice that saluted our Lord with recorded words of
consolation and assurance, and yet heard not the articulate
words, but thought "it thundered" or that some "angel spake to Him"
12:28, 29)—so these men
heard the voice that spake to Saul, but heard not the
articulate words. Apparent discrepancies like these, in the
different narratives of the same scene in one and the same book of
Acts, furnish the strongest confirmation both of the facts themselves
and of the book which records them.
8. Saul arose … and when his eyes were
opened, he saw no man—after beholding the Lord, since he
"could not see for the glory of that light" (Ac 22:11), he had involuntarily closed his eyes
to protect them from the glare; and on opening them again he found his
vision gone. "It is not said, however, that he was blind, for it
was no punishment" [Bengel].
9. And he was three days without sight, and
neither did eat nor drink—that is, according to the
Hebrew mode of computation: he took no food during the remainder
of that day, the entire day following, and so much of the subsequent
day as elapsed before the visit of Ananias. Such a period of entire
abstinence from food, in that state of mental absorption and revolution
into which he had been so suddenly thrown, is in perfect harmony with
known laws and numerous facts. But what three days those must have
been! "Only one other space of three days' duration can be mentioned of
equal importance in the history of the world" [Howson]. Since Jesus had been revealed not only to
his eyes but to his soul (see on Ga
1:15, 16), the double conviction must have immediately flashed upon
him, that his whole reading of the Old Testament hitherto had been
wrong, and that the system of legal righteousness in which he had, up
to that moment, rested and prided himself was false and fatal. What
materials these for spiritual exercise during those three days of total
darkness, fasting, and solitude! On the one hand, what
self-condemnation, what anguish, what death of legal hope, what
difficulty in believing that in such a case there could be hope at all;
on the other hand, what heartbreaking admiration of the grace that had
"pulled him out of the fire," what resistless conviction that there
must be a purpose of love in it, and what tender expectation of being
yet honored, as a chosen vessel, to declare what the Lord had done for
his soul, and to spread abroad the savor of that Name which he had so
wickedly, though ignorantly, sought to destroy—must have
struggled in his breast during those memorable days! Is it too much to
say that all that profound insight into the Old Testament, that
comprehensive grasp of the principles of the divine economy, that
penetrating spirituality, that vivid apprehension of man's lost state,
and those glowing views of the perfection and glory of the divine
remedy, that beautiful ideal of the loftiness and the lowliness of the
Christian character, that large philanthropy and burning zeal to spend
and be spent through all his future life for Christ, which distinguish
the writings of this chiefest of the apostles and greatest of men, were
all quickened into life during those three successive days?
10-16. a certain disciple … named
Ananias—See on Ac 22:12.
to him said the Lord—that is, Jesus.
(See Ac 9:13, 14, 17).
11. go into the street … called
Straight—There is still a street of this name in Damascus,
about half a mile in length, running from east to west through the city
and inquire in the house of Judas for one called
Saul of Tarsus—There is something touching in the minuteness
of these directions. Tarsus was the capital of the province of Cilicia,
lying along the northeast coast of the Mediterranean. It was situated
on the river Cydnus, was a "large and populous city" (says Xenophon, and see Ac 21:39), and under the Romans had the privilege
behold, he prayeth—"breathing out" no
longer "threatenings and slaughter," but struggling desires after light
and life in the Persecuted One. Beautiful note of encouragement as to
the frame in which Ananias would find the persecutor.
12. And hath seen in a vision a man named
Ananias, &c.—Thus, as in the case of Cornelius and Peter
afterwards, there was a mutual preparation of each for each. But we
have no account of the vision which Saul had of Ananias coming unto him
and putting his hands upon him for the restoration of his sight, save
this interesting allusion to it in the vision which Ananias himself
13. Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many
of this man, &c.—"The objections of Ananias, and the
removal of them by the Lord, display in a very touching manner the
childlike relation of the believing soul to its Redeemer. The Saviour
speaks with Ananias as a man does with his friend" [Olshausen].
how much evil he hath done to thy
saints—"Thy saints," says Ananias to Christ; therefore
Christ is God [Bengel]. So, in Ac 9:14, Ananias describes the disciples
as "those that called on Christ's name." See on Ac
7:59, 60; and compare 1Co 1:2.
14. here he hath authority, &c.—so
that the terror not only of the great persecutor's name, but of this
commission to Damascus, had travelled before him from the capital to
the doomed spot.
15. Go thy way—Do as thou art bidden,
he is a chosen vessel—a word often
used by Paul in illustrating God's sovereignty in election (Ro 9:21-23; 2Co 4:7; 2Ti 2:20, 21 [Alford].
16. I will show him—(See Ac 20:23, 24;
how great things he must suffer for my
name—that is, Much he has done against that Name; but now,
when I show him what great things he must suffer for that Name, he
shall count it his honor and privilege.
17-19. Ananias went his way, and putting his hands
on him, said, Brother Saul—How beautifully childlike is the
obedience of Ananias to "the heavenly vision!"
the Lord, even Jesus—This clearly
shows in what sense the term "Lord" is used in this book. It is Jesus that is meant, as almost invariably in
the Epistles also.
who appeared unto thee in the way—This
knowledge by an inhabitant of Damascus of what had happened to Saul
before entering it, would show him at once that this was the man whom
Jesus had already prepared him to expect.
and be filled with the Holy
Ghost—which Ananias probably, without any express
instructions on that subject, took it for granted would descend upon
him; and not necessarily after his baptism [Baumgarten, Webster
and Wilkinson]—for Cornelius and
his company received it before theirs (Ac 10:44-48)—but perhaps immediately after the
recovery of his sight by the laying on of Ananias' hands.
18. there fell from his eyes as it were
scales—"This shows that the blindness as well as the cure was
supernatural. Substances like scales would not form naturally in so
short a time" [Webster and Wilkinson]. And the medical precision of
Luke's language here is to be noted.
was baptized—as directed by Ananias
19. when he had received meat, he was
strengthened—for the exhaustion occasioned by his three days'
fast would not be the less real, though unfelt during his struggles.
(See on Mt 4:2).
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples at
Damascus—making their acquaintance, in another way than
either he or they had anticipated, and regaining his tone by the
fellowship of the saints; but not certainly in order to learn from them
what he was to teach, which he expressly disavows (Ga 1:12, 16).
20-22. preached Christ … that he is the Son
of God—rather, "preached Jesus," according to all the most
ancient manuscripts and versions of the New Testament (so Ac 9:21, "all that call on this name," that is,
Jesus; and Ac 9:22,
"proving that this Jesus is very Christ").
23. And after many days were fulfilled, the Jews
took counsel to kill him—Had we no other record than this,
we should have supposed that what is here related took place while Saul
continued at Damascus after his baptism. But in Ga 1:17, 18 we learn from Paul himself that
he "went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus," and that from
the time of his first visit to the close of his second, both of which
appear to have been short, a period of three years elapsed; either
three full years, or one full year and part of two others. (See on Ga 1:16-18). That such a blank should occur in the
Acts, and be filled up in Galatians, is not more remarkable than that
the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, their stay there, and their
return thence, recorded only by Matthew, should be so entirely passed
over by Luke, that if we had only his Gospel, we should have supposed
that they returned to Nazareth immediately after the presentation in
the temple. (Indeed in one of his narratives, Ac 22:16, 17, Paul himself takes no notice of
this period). But wherefore this journey? Perhaps (1) because he
felt a period of repose and partial seclusion to be needful to his
spirit, after the violence of the change and the excitement of his new
occupation. (2) To prevent the rising storm which was gathering against
him from coming too soon to a head. (3) To exercise his ministry in the
Jewish synagogues, as opportunity afforded. On his return, refreshed
and strengthened in spirit, he immediately resumed his ministry, but
soon to the imminent hazard of his life.
24, 25. they watched the gates night and day to
kill him—The full extent of his danger appears only from his
own account (2Co 11:32):
"In Damascus, the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the
Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me"; the exasperated
Jews having obtained from the governor a military force, the more
surely to compass his destruction.
25. Then the disciples … by night let him
down—"through a window" (2Co 11:33).
by the wall—Such overhanging windows
in the walls of Eastern cities were common, and are to be seen in
Damascus to this day.
Ac 9:26-31. Saul's First
Visit to Jerusalem after His Conversion.
26. And when Saul was come to
Jerusalem—"three years after" his conversion, and
particularly "to see Peter" (Ga 1:18); no
doubt because he was the leading apostle, and to communicate to him the
prescribed sphere of his labors, specially to "the Gentiles."
he assayed to join himself to the
disciples—simply as one of them, leaving his apostolic
commission to manifest itself.
they were all afraid of him,
&c.—knowing him only as a persecutor of the faith; the rumor
of his conversion, if it ever was cordially believed, passing away
during his long absence in Arabia, and the news of his subsequent
labors in Damascus perhaps not having reached them.
27. But Barnabas … brought him to the
apostles—that is, to Peter and James; for "other of the
apostles saw I none," says he fourteen years after (Ga 1:18, 19). Probably none of the other
apostles were there at the time (Ac 4:36). Barnabas being of Cyprus, which was
within a few hours' sail of Cilicia, and annexed to it as a Roman
province, and Saul and he being Hellenistic Jews and eminent in their
respective localities, they may very well have been acquainted with
each other before this [Howson]. What is
here said of Barnabas is in fine consistency with the "goodness"
ascribed to him (Ac 11:24),
and with the name "son of consolation," given him by the apostles
4:36); and after Peter and
James were satisfied, the disciples generally would at once receive
how he had seen the Lord … and
had spoken to him—that is, how he had
received his commission direct from the Lord Himself.
28, 29. And he was with them, coming in and going
out at Jerusalem—for fifteen days, lodging with Peter (Ga 1:18).
29. disputed against the Grecians—(See
on Ac 6:1); addressing himself specially to them,
perhaps, as being of his own class, and that against which he had in
the days of his ignorance been the fiercest.
they went about to slay him—Thus was
he made to feel, throughout his whole course, what he himself had made
others so cruelly to feel, the cost of discipleship.
30. they brought him down to
Cæsarea—on the coast (see on Ac
8:40); accompanying him thus far. But Paul had another reason than
his own apprehension for quitting Jerusalem so soon. "While he was
praying in the temple, he was in a trance," and received express
injunctions to this effect. (See on Ac
and sent him forth to Tarsus—In Ga 1:21 he himself says of this journey,
that he "came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia"; from which it is
natural to infer that instead of sailing direct for Tarsus, he landed
at Seleucia, travelled thence to Antioch, and penetrated from this
northward into Cilicia, ending his journey at Tarsus. As this was his
first visit to his native city since his conversion, so it is not
certain that he ever was there again. (See on Ac
11:25). It probably was now that he became the instrument of
gathering into the fold of Christ those "kinsmen," that "sister," and
perhaps her "son," of whom mention is made in Ac 23:16,
&c.; Ro 16:7, 11, 21
Flourishing State of the Church in Palestine at
31. Then had all the churches
rest—rather, "the Church," according to the best manuscripts
and versions. But this rest was owing not so much to the conversion of
Saul, as probably to the Jews being engrossed with the emperor
Caligula's attempt to have his own image set up in the temple of
Jerusalem [Josephus, Antiquities,
throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and
Samaria—This incidental notice of distinct churches already
dotting all the regions which were the chief scenes of our Lord's
ministry, and that were best able to test the facts on which the whole
preaching of the apostles was based, is extremely interesting. "The
fear of the Lord" expresses their holy walk; "the comfort of the Holy
Ghost," their "peace and joy in believing," under the silent operation
of the blessed Comforter.
Ac 9:32-43. Peter Heals
Eneas at Lydda and Raises Tabitha to Life at Joppa.
The historian now returns to Peter, in order to
introduce the all-important narrative of Cornelius (Ac 10:1-48). The occurrences here related
probably took place during Saul's sojourn in Arabia.
32-35. as Peter passed throughout all
quarters—not now fleeing from persecution, but peacefully
visiting the churches.
to the saints which dwelt at
Lydda—about five miles east of Joppa.
34. And Peter said unto him, Eneas, Jesus Christ
maketh thee whole—(See on Ac 3:6).
make thy bed—(See on Joh 5:8).
35. all that dwelt at Lydda and
Saron—(or "Sharon," a rich vale between Joppa and
saw him, and turned to the Lord—that
is, there was a general conversion in consequence.
36-39. at Joppa—the modern Jaffa,
on the Mediterranean, a very ancient city of the Philistines,
afterwards and still the seaport of Jerusalem, from which it lies
distant forty-five miles to the northwest.
Tabitha … Dorcas—the
Syro-Chaldaic and Greek names for an antelope or
gazelle, which, from its loveliness, was frequently employed as
a proper name for women [Meyer, Olshausen]. Doubtless the interpretation, as
here given, is but an echo of the remarks made by the Christians
regarding her—how well her character answered to her name.
full of good works and
alms-deeds—eminent for the activities and generosities of the
37. when they had washed—according to
the custom of civilized nations towards the dead.
in an—rather, "the"
upper chamber—(compare 1Ki 17:19).
38. the disciples sent unto
Peter—showing that the disciples generally did not possess
miraculous gifts [Bengel].
39. all the widows—whom she had clad or
stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and
garments which Dorcas had made—that is, (as the tense
implies), showing these as specimens only of what she was in the
habit of making.
40-43. Peter put them all forth, and kneeled
down—the one in imitation of his Master's way (Lu 8:54; and compare 2Ki 4:33); the other, in striking contrast with
it. The kneeling became the lowly servant, but not the Lord
Himself, of whom it is never once recorded that he knelt in the
performance of a miracle.
opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat
up—The graphic minuteness of detail here imparts to the
narrative an air of charming reality.
41. he gave her his hand, and lifted her
up—as his Lord had done to his own mother-in-law (Mr 1:31).
43. with one Simon a tanner—a trade
regarded by the Jews as half unclean, and consequently disreputable,
from the contact with dead animals and blood which was connected with
it. For this reason, even by other nations, it is usually carried on at
some distance from towns; accordingly, Simon's house was "by the
10:6). Peter's lodging there
shows him already to some extent above Jewish prejudice.