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Acts 4:5-12 Biblical Commentary:
The context for this passage starts with Acts 3:1-10, where Peter and John went to the temple at the hour of prayer. They encountered a man who was lame from birth. Friends carried the man into the temple where he begged for alms.
The man thought that Peter and John would give him alms. Instead, Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk” (3:6). Peter helped him up, and the man began “walking, leaping, and praising God” (3:8). “All the people” saw it (3:9) and “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened” to the man (3:10).
Then Luke reports, “As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering” (3:11).
In response to the crowd’s astonishment, Peter preached a sermon that included a number of points in common with his Pentecost sermon (3:11-26):
• The address. “You men of Judea” (Acts 2:14) and “You men of Israel” (3:12).
• Misconception. “For these aren’t drunken” (2:15) and “why do you marvel at this man” (3:12).
• Reference to ancestors. David (2:25) and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:13)
• Guilt. “Crucified and killed” (Acts 2:23) and “you denied…and killed” (3:14-15).
• Resurrection. “This Jesus God raised up” (2:32) and “whom God raised” (3:15).
• Glorification. “Exalted” (2:33) and “glorified” (3:13).
• Call to repentance. “Repent, and be baptized” (2:38) and “Repent, therefore” (3:19).
• Conversions. Three thousand at Pentecost (2:41) and five thousand here (4:4).
Then “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came to them, being upset because they taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:1-2)—so they had Peter and John arrested and held in custody overnight. But Luke reports, “But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (4:4). We don’t know whether the three thousand who were baptized at Pentecost were part of this five thousand or in addition to it. In any event, the church was growing explosively—thousands of converts in only a few days.
ACTS 4:5-7. IN WHOSE NAME DID YOU DO THIS?
5It happened in the morning, that their rulers (Greek: archontas), elders (Greek: presbyterous), and scribes (Greek: grammateis) were gathered together in Jerusalem. 6Annas the high priest was there, with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and as many as were relatives of the high priest. 7When they had stood them in the middle of them, they inquired, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?”
“It happened in the morning, that their rulers (archontas), elders (presbyterous), and scribes (grammateis) were gathered together in Jerusalem“ (v. 5). The rulers (archontas) are not civil authorities, such as Herod, but are instead religious authorities, such as the high priest. The elders (presbyterous) are older men from the community who are charged with administrative and judicial responsibilities. The scribes (grammateis) are students of Jewish law who are tasked with determining how to apply the law in specific situations. These three groups constitute the Jewish power structure—the council (Greek: sunedriou—Sanhedrin—mentioned in 4:15).
Local jurisdictions would each have their own councils or Sanhedrins, but this would be the national Sanhedrin in Jerusalem—the supreme authority responsible for adjudicating the religious life of the Jewish people. This Sanhedrin has 71 members, drawn from the religious elite of the nation. It includes many Sadducees (many of whom are priests) and Pharisees (many of whom are scribes).
“Annas the high priest was there, with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and as many as were relatives of the high priest“ (v. 6). There is potential for confusion with regard to Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law (John 18:13). In this verse, Luke refers to Annas as the high priest, but in his Gospel, he mentioned “in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (Luke 3:2). The Gospels of Matthew and John say that Caiaphas was the high priest (Matthew 26:3, 57; John 18:24). However, we know that Annas was high priest from 6 to 15 A.D., and Caiaphas was high priest from 18 to 36 A.D. This would make Caiaphas high priest during Jesus’ adult life and the early life of the church. In mentioning Annas as high priest, Luke is probably acknowledging both his prior service as high priest and his continuing influence through Caiaphas and other members of his family. Five of Annas’ sons will also become high priests.
The Gospel of John identified Annas and Caiaphas by name, saying that Jesus appeared before each of them in turn (John 18:13, 24). “Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should perish for the people” (John 18:14).
We aren’t certain about the identity of John and Alexander. John could be Jonathan, Annas’ son who will succeed Caiaphas as high priest. We have no idea who Alexander is.
“When they had stood them in the middle of them“ (v. 7a). The Sanhedrin convened in a semi-circle. People appearing before the court would stand in the center. Everything is designed to intimidate those appearing before the council. Council members would be seated, probably in elevated seats. The people being examined would stand. The council is made up of 71 members, and would typically examine individuals or small groups. The council members are rich and powerful. Luke tells us that Peter and John, by contrast, are “unlearned and ignorant men” (4:13).
“By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” (v. 7b). These members of the Sanhedrin are people of authority, so they understand authority. They want to know who gave the apostles the authority “to do this”—an ambiguous phrase. They could be asking who gave the apostles authority to heal the lame man, and that is the interpretation that Peter will attach to their question in his answer (v. 9). However, Luke has already informed us that their real concern was not the healing of the lame man but the preaching “in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (v. 2). Josephus tells us that the Pharisees believe in the resurrection, but the Sadducees (who constitute the bulk of the priesthood and the Sanhedrin) do not.
Instead of using the word authority, the council asks “by what power or in what name, have you done this?” In most cases, litigants would either give the name of an authority who authorized their actions or would acknowledge that they were acting without authority. However, as we will see, the wording of this question gives Peter a wonderful opportunity to talk about Jesus’ power—about the power that the apostles have been privileged to wield (healing the lame man) while acting in Jesus’ name.
In the sermon that he gave after healing the lame man, Peter earlier corrected the crowd’s impression that it was the apostles’ power that healed the man (3:12). He made it clear that it was “By faith in his (Jesus’) name, his name has made this man strong”—and that it was “the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (3:16).
ACTS 4:8-10. IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH
8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “You rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, 9if we are examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, (Greek: sesotai—from sozo) 10be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in him does this man stand here before you whole.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 8a). As usual, Peter acts as the spokesman for the apostles.
We have been hearing about the Holy Spirit from the beginning of this book (1:2). Jesus promised, “you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (1:5) and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (1:8). This promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, when the apostles “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). The frequent mention of the Spirit reminds us again and again that the apostles are working, not by their own power, but by the power of God.
“You rulers of the people, and elders of Israel“ (v. 8b). Peter begins his address respectfully, acknowledging the council in a formal manner. These rulers and elders are powerful people—people who have the power to make or break the fledgling church—or so it would seem.
“if we are examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed“(sesotai—from sozo) (v. 9). As noted above, the council’s chief concern was not the man’s healing the preaching “in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (v. 2). But they asked the question in such a way that Peter is able to interpret their concern as the healing of the lame man. That gives him the opportunity to point out the irony that he and the other apostles have been arrested for doing a good deed—healing a man who had been lame from birth.
Unlike some previous controversies, this healing did not take place on the Sabbath. In this instance, there was no justification for the Sanhedrin to arrest these apostles. In most circumstances, ruling authorities would honor people who did a good deed. These authorities arrest them.
Peter introduces the word sozo—a word with two meanings. It can mean healed, but it can also mean saved. The lame man was healed physically, but this word sozo is used more often in the New Testament to refer to spiritual or eschatological salvation.
“be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth“ (v. 10a). Now Peter answers the Sanhedrin’s question. They wanted to know “by what power, or in what name” they were action. Peter answers that they were acting by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It was Jesus’ power that healed the lame man.
Peter reminds the council that the formerly lame man is standing in their midst—proof of Jesus’ power to sozo—to heal and to save.
“whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead“ (v. 10b). Peter is guilty of performing a good deed, but the council (Sanhedrin) is guilty of crucifying the one who had the power to sozo—to heal and to save.
The fact that the healed man is standing in the midst of the council makes it clear that the apostles possess an unusual power—but the apostles have made it clear that their sozo-power does not originate within themselves, but comes from Jesus.
The council arrested the apostles and had them appear before the council in the expectation that they would pronounce the apostles guilty. However, Peter has now turned the tables—has pronounced the council guilty.
Peter earlier said that these rulers acted in ignorance when they killed Jesus (3:17). But now he confronts them with their guilt. They can no longer plead ignorance.
There is irony layered on irony here. The Sadducees, who constitute the bulk of the priesthood, do not believe in the resurrection of the dead—but God raised Jesus from the dead after they killed him. God reversed their judgment—revealed the council to be acting in opposition to God’s will. When the council crucified Jesus, they assumed that his death would be final. However, Jesus’ resurrection turned out to be the final word.
ACTS 4:11-12. THERE IS SALVATION IN NONE OTHER
11He is ‘the stone which was regarded as worthless by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner.’ 12There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved!” (Greek: sothenai—from sozo)
“He is ‘the stone which was regarded as worthless by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner‘” (v. 11). Peter alludes to Psalm 118:22, which says, “the stone which was regarded as worthless by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner”. In its original context, that psalm was a song of victory by David, who was expressing his thanks for God’s salvation. He had been surrounded by the nations—as if surrounded by a swarm of bees. But “in the name of Yahweh I cut them off!” (118:12).
But Jesus applied this verse to himself (Luke 20:17; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10), and Christians quickly adopted it as messianic (see also Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6).
The word cornerstone probably referred to a large stone joining the intersection of two walls and holding them together. But whatever the meaning of the word in normal discourse, the meaning here is clear. The religious authorities (the builders) rejected Jesus, who turned out to be the foundation for salvation history.
“There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved“ (v. 12). This verse expresses the same thought in two different ways. First, there is no salvation except through Jesus. Second, Jesus’ name is the key to salvation.
Note the reference to Jesus’ name. This proceeding began with the question, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this” (v. 7). Peter has already established that he healed the blind man “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (v. 10). Now he closes by saying that salvation is wholly dependent on the power of Jesus’ name. Nothing else will do.
“by which we must be saved” (v. 12). The Greek is en ho dei sothenai hemas. A literal translation is “by which it is necessary for YOU to be saved.” Peter is telling the council that they must seek salvation through Jesus.
At Pentecost, Peter concluded his sermon by saying, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). He doesn’t repeat that appeal here. He simply establishes the guilt of these council members (vv. 10-11) and tells them that it is necessary for them to be saved by reliance on Jesus’ name. This constitutes a warning that they (and their nation) are in danger if they continue to reject Jesus.
As I am writing this, we are in an election year. Many people are convinced that the salvation of our nation (and their personal welfare) is vested in this candidate or that one. For true believers, the name of their candidate means salvation and the name of the opposing candidate means disaster.
I would not totally discount such beliefs, because I have seen the effects of good and bad political leadership, and I understand that good leadership is vital. Dozens of nations around the world have been crippled by bad political leadership. Few have been blessed with good political leadership—but the citizens of those few nations have been blessed by the good leadership that they have enjoyed.
But I have been disappointed by political leaders too often to be a true believer. Politicians have proven to have clay feet. Some are better than others—much better in some cases—but none is without serious flaws.
But the longer I live, the more evidence I see that Jesus is faithful. I have disappointed him, but he has never disappointed me (at least I have not been disappointed in the long run. I have sometimes been disappointed in a particular outcome, only to learn later that the Lord had a better plan in store for me). I feel confident when I encourage people to follow him, because he has saved so many people from disastrous living. I have seen it. I know such people. I am one of them. I am confident that there is, indeed, salvation in Jesus’ name.
As the story continues, the members of the council will be perplexed by Peter’s boldness—and by the witness of the formerly lame man in their presence—so they will meet privately to determine what to do. They will then order Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus any further, but Peter and John will make it clear that they have no intention of obeying that command. The council will be stymied by the popularity of the apostles with the people (1:21).
In the next chapter, we will read about the apostles healing many people in Solomon’s Portico (5:12-16)—the same place where they healed the lame man. The council will jail the apostles, but God will free them from prison. Then the council will learn that the apostles are once again teaching in the temple. The council members will want to kill the apostles, but Gamaliel, a Pharisee and a teacher of the law, will tell the council to allow for the possibility that this new movement is of God. The council will have the apostles flogged, but the apostles will rejoice in their sufferings for Christ and will continue their proclamation undeterred (5:17-42).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible: Acts, (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1976)
Bock, Darrell L., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)
Bruce, F. F., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Revised) (Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Chance, J. Bradley, The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Acts (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2007)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Fackre, Gabriel, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Faw, Chalmer E., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Acts, (Scottdale, Pennsyvania: Herald Press, 1993)
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: The Acts of the Apostles (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)
Pelikan, Jaroslav, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Acts (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005)
Polhill, John B., New American Commentary: Acts, Vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Soards, Marion L., The Speeches in Acts (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994)
Wall, Robert W., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Walaskay, Paul W., Westminster Bible Companion: Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Williams, David J., New International Biblical Commentary: Acts (Paternoster Press, 1995)
Willimon, William H., Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Acts (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
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