Acts 6 to 8 THE BEGINNINGS OF HELLENISTIC CHRISTIANITY (6:1-8:40)
1. APPOINTMENT OF THE SEVEN (6:1-7)
At this point a new factor enters into the history of the church--the growth of a Hellenistic as distinct from a purely Hebrew Christianity. There are indications, too, that Luke begins here to draw upon a new source. There is a definite break with what precedes. The daily distribution, though not previously alluded to, is referred to as if familiar, presumably because it has been mentioned earlier in the source; and the whole passage rests upon a fundamental distinction between "Hebrew" and "Hellenist" Christians that has not previously been drawn but now is taken for granted without explanation. Harnack in his analysis calls this the "Antiochene" source, and believes that it originated from a locality where there was special interest in the development of Hellenistic Christianity. He traces this source in 6:1-8:4, with which he links up 11:19-30--the first spread of Christianity to Antioch and district--and 12:25-15:35--Paul's mission from Antioch on his first tour and his return to Antioch. It is interesting, as evidence that this is an Antioch rather than a Jerusalem source, that none of Torrey's examples of possible mistranslation from Aramaic occur in these sections. Torrey claims an Aramaic origin for the whole of the first part of Acts; but his evidence is much weaker here than elsewhere.
The Hellenists (RSV) or Grecians (KJV) in Acts have always been regarded as Greek-speaking Jews in contrast with the "Hellenes," who are Greeks by race and upbringing. This interpretation, though almost certainly right, depends entirely upon the context and not on the intrinsic meaning of the word, which signifies simply "one who Grecizes" either in language or in habits. Here the Hellenists are contrasted with the Hebrews; and as the latter word refers to race rather than to language, the Hellenists here (if they are in fact Jews) are perhaps not "Greek-speaking Jews," but rather Jews who adopted Greek customs in contrast with the more conservative Hebrews. Gadbury (Beginnings of Christianity, V, 59 ff.) in an important note argues that the word "Hellenists" refers not to Jews but to Gentiles, and is simply an alternative for "Hellenes." He points out that the other two passages in which "Hellenists" are mentioned are (a) 9:29, where there is nothing to indicate who is meant, and (b) 11:20, where the context makes it plain that pure Gentile Greeks are in view, and the best-attested reading is undoubtedly "Hellenists" (@Ellhnista6v with a B), though most editors adopt "Greeks" ($Ellhnev with a2 A D). His conclusion is that the word "Hellenists" really refers to Gentile Greeks; Luke loves verbal variations, and while in the latter half of the book "Hellenes" or "Greeks" is used, in the first twelve chapters only "Hellenists" is found. But in the present passage the insuperable obstacle to Cadbury's view would be so early a mention of Gentile Christians without any comment on this innovation. Our author gives so much attention to the case of Cornelius, as the first Gentile conversion and a turning point in Christian missions, that it is very hard to believe that, as Cadbury himself puts it, he could "introduce a reference to Gentile Christians so early in his story and so casually."
6:1-3. The daily distribution: This may be a reference to the public assistance given by means of the agape or common religious meal. The case of widows without legal protection was particularly hard, and the church quickly copied the Jewish custom of providing funds for their relief. Later the "widows" appear to have been a recognized body with their names on a roll (I Tim. 5:9). Tables is usually understood as referring to dining tables; but it is possible that the money-changer's table is meant, with reference to the general financial administration of the community. Pick out from among you: It is the congregation which makes the selection, while the apostles set them apart. Curiously Codex Vaticanus (B) reads, "Let us choose, brethren, seven men from among you," which may imply, though not necessarily, that the apostles made the selection also.
5. Of Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas we know nothing but legend, save that Prochorus is traditionally the writer of the Prochoran Acts of John, and, according to Byzantine art, John dictated the Fourth Gospel to him. Nicolaus was traditionally the founder of the heretical sect of the Nicolaitans found at Ephesus and Pergamum (Rev. 2:6, 15). Antioch is here mentioned for the first time, and perhaps indicates the interest of the source-compiler in that city.
6. Laid their hands upon them: The "laying on of hands" usually symbolizes the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, which at the very beginning seems to have been connected with this rite rather than with baptism (see 19:5-6 and on 8:17). The rite is taken over from the O.T., where it symbolizes the establishment of some vital connection between two persons, and the transference of some power or responsibility from the one to the other. Thus Moses, when appointing Joshua his successor, laid his hands on him, by which act he "put some of his honor upon him" (Num. 27:23, 20). So the apostles in Acts frequently do in healing, confirming, and ordaining. Here the bestowal of some special charisma is not necessarily implied, for the seven were already men full of the Spirit (vs. 3). The rite is the formal sign of appointment to office, as it was in the admission of new members of the Sanhedrin. It would be dangerous, as does Rackham, to base on this verse a full doctrine of apostolic succession. More truly, says Chrysostom, "The hand of man is laid on, but all is the work of God; and it is his hand that touches the head of the candidate, if he is rightly ordained."
The question why the seven were appointed, and what was their function, raises a somewhat difficult problem. Evidently a certain tension had arisen between the "Hebrew" Jews of Jerusalem and the "Hellenists" who had returned to the capital after a period of residence abroad. Possibly the latter felt that they were being treated with unfair discrimination as outsiders. If such was the case, the reason would probably be mere local prejudice rather than any suspicion of their religious orthodoxy. For, as evidence of the Hellenists' loyalty to Jewish law and worship, it is noteworthy that the attack upon Stephen was instigated, not by Palestinian, but by Hellenist Jews. All the seven have Greek names, and they were evidently appointed in some way to safeguard the interests of the Hellenists. But what were their functions? There are three possible views: (a) They have traditionally been regarded as the first "deacons." Luke implies that they were to be responsible for the fair distribution of alms. He does not actually call them "deacons" (dia6konoi); but in connection with them he uses the abstract noun "distribution" (literally ministration or "service"; diakoni6a) and the verb "serve" (diakonei'n); and as by the time that Luke wrote there did in fact exist an order with the name of deacons, the use of these cognate words at least suggests that Luke considers the seven to be deacons. The difficulty is that nowhere in the N.T. are any of the seven referred to as such; nor is there any evidence that there ever were in Jerusalem deacons with functions like those of the deacons whom we meet toward the end of the first century. Whereas, according to Luke, the seven were appointed to be in charge of financial administration, the deacon, as we know him from Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8 ff.; the Didache; and Clement, is commonly mentioned alongside the bishop, and appears to have been his assistant generally in the conduct of the Eucharist, and the ordering of discipline, as well as in the organization of alms. (b) It has been suggested that the seven were the first "elders" of the Jerusalem church. Later in Acts "apostles and elders" are mentioned as the important personages, and in 11:30 it is stated that Antioch sent alms to "the elders," as if the latter had charge of the duties entrusted here to the seven. But it is most unlikely that as early as this "elders" would be officially "appointed" and "ordained." Rather would they naturally assume leadership in virtue of personal prestige and larger experience in the faith. Nor can we explain why all the first elders at Jerusalem should be Hellenists. (c) It is noticeable that the seven comport themselves not as administrators but as missionaries, and Stephen and Philip in particular at once assume an almost apostolic prominence in aggressive evangelism. Hence it is perhaps more likely that the seven were, as Chrysostom says, "neither presbyters nor deacons," but rather held a unique office parallel to the apostolate. The motive for their appointment lay in a Hebrew-Hellenist disharmony which the matter of practical administration merely brought to a head. Probably the Hellenists were discovering that their own view of the gospel was not quite that of the Palestinian brethren, and they wished apostles of their own who would represent it. Thus the title "the seven" corresponds to the title "the twelve," and the names of the seven are given in full like those of the apostles. The distinction between the seven and the twelve was one of sphere rather than of function. The seven were to be for the Hellenists exactly what the twelve were for the Hebrews. If Luke has obscured this, has put all the emphasis on the minor question of the "distribution," and made it to appear that the seven were intended to be mere administrators subordinate to the twelve, it is perhaps because he habitually tends to minimize any cleavage between the more Judaistic and the more liberal elements in the church.
7. Multiplied greatly (sfo6dra): According to Torrey, this represents the same Aramaic word (lahadhA), correctly translated here, as was incorrectly translated by ejpi; to; aujto; in 2:47. We have in this note the only trace in Acts of any interest in Christianity on the part of the priests.
2. STORY OF STEPHEN (6:8-8:3)
Some editors have detected a certain incoherence in the telling of the story of Stephen. The connection between the wonders and signs in vs. 8 and the disputation that follows in vs. 9 is not very clear; it looks as if the source rather may have told how Stephen carried his aggressive missionary message into the Hellenistic synagogues and thus aroused an acrimonious debate which resulted in his arrest. Furthermore there are curious repetitions in the narrative: (a) The charge against Stephen is twice stated, the substance of vss. 9-11 being repeated in vss. 12-14; (b) the stoning of Stephen is also described twice, in 7:54-58a and in 7:58b-60. These doublets suggest that the story may be derived from two sources, possibly reflecting two variant traditions, which have been somewhat infelicitously combined. According to one (6:9-11 plus 7:54-58a) Stephen was summarily lynched by an angry mob; according to the other (6:12-7:53, plus 7:58b-60) he was tried, possibly somewhat informally, and executed by the Sanhedrim Lake points out that one can pass from 6:8-11 to 7:54 ff. without being conscious of any break in the narrative. He is inclined to think that the whole speech, which bears very little relation to the charges brought against Stephen, is a free composition by the author--who considers that Stephen's death was due to the Sanhedrin--inserted into an earlier narrative which related that he was stoned by a mob (Beginnings of Christianity, II, 14950). Even without accepting any such theory of "doublets," it may be admitted that the speech looks like an insertion. Note that the ecstasy of 6:15 reappears in 7:55. If the latter verse is read to follow immediately after 7:1, Stephen's only answer to the high priest, like Jesus', would be a reference to a theophany of the glorified Christ (Mark 14:62)--a most suggestive and impressive parallel. One cannot but wonder whether the story was not told thus in Luke's original source. Quite apart from the acceptance of any one of the complicated theories of source reconstruction, the problem of how and why Stephen was put to death remains, and is discussed below.
Concerning the authenticity of Stephen's speech, it is particularly difficult to reach a clear judgment. At first sight it appears largely irrelevant. No direct answer is made to the charges brought against him. Instead, a lengthy narrative of God's gracious dealings with Israel is followed by illustrations of the ingratitude with which Israel requited God's goodness. But this criticism of the old economy is not balanced by a single word about the new Christian economy which is to supplant it; nor is there any mention of the name of Jesus Christ. The conclusion in vss. 51 ff. is singularly surprising and abrupt. Why should Stephen find the climax of his people's history in the building of Solomon's temple? And having done so, why does he abruptly launch into invective without any attempt to give a reasoned answer to his accusers? It is easy to say that "he was cut short and his defense left incomplete" (Rackham). If he really made so irrelevant a speech, the wonder rather is how the court could have allowed him to run on so long. Moreover, though the speech professes to be a summary of O.T. history, there are a surprising number of variations from and of additions to the O.T. record. Hence most modern editors are unable to accept the speech as Stephen's own. On the other hand Lake and Cadbury comment: "The absence of an allusion to they Judaistic controversy seems to exclude any theory which would make the speech the composition of one who had lived through that controversy in the company of Paul, and was writing with a view to the situation of the Christian Church of the period. ... The general character of the speech seems to fit in very well with the theory that it represents either a good tradition as to what Stephen really did say, or at least what a very early Christian, not of the Pauline school, would have wished him to say. All observation shows that religious or political pioneers when brought into court never attempt to rebut the accusations brought against them, but use the opportunity for making a partisan address" (The Beginnings of Christianity, ed. F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake [London: Macmillan & Co.; New York: The Macmillan Co., 1920-33], IV, 69-70).
Had Stephen lived he would have ranked with the greatest of the apostles. His career can hardly have lasted more than a few months, or even weeks, and he is the ideal type of man who "being made perfect in a little while fulfills long years" (Wisd. Sol. 4:13). Of his origin we know nothing, save that he was probably a Hellenistic Jew from abroad--possibly from Cyrene or Alexandria, if the name of the synagogue in which he was attacked provides any clue. It has been noted that there is a slight flavor of Alexandrian culture in his speech; e.g., the word "wisdom" occurs four times and nowhere else in Acts; and men from Cyrene were of course also prominent in the early community--Simon who carried the cross (Mark 15:21), and Lucius the prophet of Antioch (13:1). Stephen's significance is that his preaching in the Hellenistic synagogues made it evident that Christianity was something more than just a new Jewish sect, and that its spread would involve danger to the law of Moses. He drove in the first wedge between Judaism and Christianity and made possible the emergence of a distinctively Christian church. Hence the attack upon him by his fellow Hellenist Jews. The accusation must have had some basis in fact; but 6:13 is almost certainly a misrepresentation. Had this been a true charge, Stephen must have earned the disapproval of the Christian community itself, which was still wholly loyal to the Jewish faith, and of this there is no trace. Even if we accept the speech as authentic, it would be a mistake to interpret even vss. 48-50 as an attack on the whole temple system as such. The sting of the speech is not in vss. 48-50 but in vss. 51-53, and Stephen's main point is that the real violators of God's law are not the Christians but their accusers and the unconverted Jews in general. Hence the force of vss. 48-50 is not so much that God is to be worshiped only in spirit and that temple worship should be abolished; it is rather that mere external worship is not enough if the hearts of the worshipers are turned away to other gods. Stephen is repeating a thought constantly voiced by the prophets, not launching a new Gentile-Christian anti-Jewish polemic. Probably Stephen was arrested, not because of any definite attack on the law and the temple, but because he represented a more liberal type of Judaism, which emphasized the moral rather than the ceremonial side of the law, perhaps combined with a more spiritual interpretation of the messianic expectations, which may have seemed to belittle national and political hopes. Though Stephen is rightly considered a forerunner of Paul, it is only in this somewhat limited sense that we can think of him as anticipating Paul's assertion of a distinctively free, Gentile Christianity.
As to how, as a matter of history, Stephen's death was brought about, there is a good deal to suggest that Luke's source may have described the martyrdom as an act of mob violence. But the account as edited by Luke implies that he was officially tried and condemned by the Sanhedrin; and in particular the reference to "witnesses" points to a regular execution. On the other hand it is perhaps unlikely that during the Roman dominion in Jerusalem the Sanhedrin could have carried through such a summary trial and execution. It is possible that Stephen really was tried before the Sanhedrin, which had no intention of exceeding its powers by inflicting the death penalty, and that the mob intervened and lynched him. But it is worth remembering that the insertion of a trial scene, whereby the blame for judicial murder would be cast upon the Jewish authorities rather than on the people or the Romans, would be quite in keeping with our author's point of view.
The persecution which followed Stephen's death made more clear the growing cleavage between the two sections within the Christian community. The apostles and the native Christians were apparently permitted to remain in Jerusalem; the followers of Stephen were driven in all directions, many no doubt returning to their former homes, and thereby sowing the first seeds of a wider mission. How long the persecution lasted we do not know. Three years after Paul's conversion (Gal. 1:18) Peter and James, and presumably other Jewish Christians, were still in the city; and a few years later the community was numerous enough to give Herod Agrippa the opportunity to curry favor with the Jews by executing James and imprisoning Peter (12:1 ff.). But Luke records this as something exceptional and in contrast to a general toleration.
9. Better translated: "Some of the members of the synagogue which is called that of the Libertines, both Cyrenians and Alexandrians." Jews who were Libertines, or Freedmen, had their own synagogue, and in this particular case both Cyrenians and Alexandrians were included in the membership. Those from Cilicia and Asia are mentioned as a separate group. An alternative is to read "Libyans" instead of "Libertines"--these "Libyans" then being defined as "Cyrenians and Alexandrians."
11. Secretly instigated: The Greek word gives the suggestion of a frame-up. Blasphemous words: "Blasphemy" in the technical sense according to rabbinical law required the use of God's name. But the word can be used of scurrilous language apart from any technical religious offense.
14. An obvious echo of the charge brought against Jesus himself (Mark 14:58).
7:2. Before he lived in Haran: According to Gen. 11:27-12:5, God's promise to Abraham was made after he had already moved to Haran. But both Philo and Josephus support Stephen's version. There are in the speech a number of variations from the story as told in the Pentateuch, some of which are due to the influence of the LXX and others apparently to the persistence of varying traditions. (On the speech see also pp. 91-93.)
4-5. After his father died: According to the reckoning of Gen. 11:26, 32; 12:4, Terah must still have been living when the move was made from Haran. A foot's length: An echo of Deut. 2:5, where, however, the reference is to Mount Seir.
7. In this place: An echo of Exod. 3:12, where similarly the reference is not to Canaan but to Mount Sinai. According to Stephen, the promise is not only that they shall inherit the land, but, even more, that they shall have free opportunity of worship; cf. Luke 1:73, "The oath ... that we ... might serve him without fear."
14. Seventy-five souls: So the LXX in Gen. 46:27; Exod. 1:5, whereas the original Hebrew has "seventy."
16. Again tradition varies, for according to Josh. 24:32, it was Joseph alone who was buried at Shechem, while according to Gen. 50:13, Jacob--and his other sons? (cf. Josephus Antiquities II. 8. 2)--was buried at Hebron.
19. Dealt craftily with: An unusual Greek word well translated "exploited" by Lake and Cadbury; cf. Exod. 1:10, "let us deal wisely with them."
20. Beautiful before God, i.e., even by God's standards--equivalent to a strong superlative (cf. Gen. 10:9). In modern Greek qeo-, prefixed to adjectives, gives them this superlative force.
22. This is not mentioned in the O.T. but is stressed by Philo (Moses I. 5).
25. This statement is not supported by any O.T. passage and seems prompted by the desire to draw a parallel between Moses and Jesus, and to illustrate the proverb that "no prophet is acceptable in his own country"; cf. Luke 4:24 ff., where two illustrations are given from the O.T.
30. Mount Sinai: According to Exod. 3:1, Horeb. The relation between the two mountains is something of a puzzle, and later tradition identified them.
35. Deliverer or "redeemer": This word is never applied to Moses in the LXX, and once again the motive here seems to be to compare Moses with Jesus, who in Luke 24:21 is described as "the one to redeem Israel."
37-38. A prophet: See on 3:22. In the congregation is an echo of the LXX phrase "the day of the assembly," i.e., the day on which the people assembled to receive the law (Deut. 9:10; 18:16). The angel as a mediator is a later tradition added to the original account, in which Yahweh himself gives the law to Moses (see on vs. 53). For living oracles cf. Ezek. 20:11, "I gave them my statutes ... which if a man do, he shall even live in them."
42-43. For the distinctively Jewish idea that God punishes sinners by giving them over to even worse sin, cf. Rom. 1:24, 26, 28. The book of the prophets means the Book of the Twelve or minor prophets, which was one of the books into which the Prophets, or second part of O.T. canon, was divided. The quotation is from the LXX of Amos 5:25-27, but Stephen changes the point. Amos is arguing that whereas no sacrifices were required in the wilderness, the people had later turned to idolatrous sacrifices. Stephen uses the passage as a proof that even in the wilderness Israel rejected God for idols. There are several variations from the Hebrew in the LXX version which Stephen follows. Rephan is read for "Chiun"; and whereas the Hebrew has "ye have carried Sikkuth your king," the LXX took "Sikkuth" to mean tent (skhnh6) and "your king" (Hebrew mélekh) to mean the god Moloch. Stephen also puts Babylon in the place of "Damascus" (both Hebrew and LXX). The important point is that, if we had here a transcript of what Stephen actually said, the text would hardly be likely to follow the LXX in the changes made from the Hebrew. But if the speech was written in Greek by the author of Acts, the facts become intelligible. If it is held, as is argued by the champions of the theory of an Aramaic original, that the translator always brought the O.T. references into line with the LXX, why did he allow Babylon to stand in place of "Damascus"?
46. Much the best-attested reading is "for the house of Jacob" (oi[kw with a B D), though most editors prefer God of Jacob in line with Ps. 132:1-5. But the temple was for the use of the assembled people as well as of Yahweh, and "house" may well be correct.
48. The force of the Greek is: "It is not the Most High who dwells in houses made with hands"--with the implication that the heathen gods do dwell in such houses. The Most High ($Uyistov) is the LXX rendering of (Elyôn, which in the O.T. is the name used by non-Israelites who reverence the God of Israel. The prophet is Isaiah (66:1-2), again quoted from the LXX.
51-53. The Holy Spirit: Here, as often in rabbinical writings, with reference to the spirit of prophecy; or possibly Isa. 63:10--"they ... vexed his Holy Spirit"--is in mind. They killed: Historically there is no support for this statement, but in legendary tradition nearly every prophet became a martyr. For the Righteous One see on 3:14. As delivered by angels: The phrase presents us with one of the very few verbal echoes between Acts and the epistles of Paul, who in Gal. 3:19 speaks of the law as being "ordained by angels" (cf. 9:21 for another such possible echo).
55-56. Jesus standing, instead of the usual "seated," seems to suggest that our Lord is about to welcome Stephen into the immediate presence without an intermediate period of waiting for judgment or resurrection. The parallels of the story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:22) and of the promise made to the penitent thief (Luke 23:43) suggest that this is characteristic Lukan eschatology. Son of man: The only place outside the Gospels where the title is given to Jesus. There seems to be an echo of Jesus' own words in Luke 22:69, "But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God."
57-58. The Western text of vs. 57 probably read, "then the people cried out"--perhaps because the copyist regarded the execution as a mob lynching. Cast him out again suggests a lynching, whereas the mention of witnesses suits better an official execution; their duty was to throw the first stones (Deut. 17:7). A young man named Saul: This reads like a "genuine Pauline reminiscence" and "probably turns the scale in favour of the view that Stephen was actually executed rather than lynched" (Beginnings of Christianity, IV, 85)--though it is by no means clear that this is Luke's own view. How keenly Luke, if not Paul himself, felt the latter's responsibility is shown by the way he harks back to the subject in Paul's speech to the crowd at Jerusalem (22:20).
59-60. Stephen's last words echo those of Jesus as recorded by Luke: "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" and "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:46, 34). If we could be sure that these are Stephen's exact words, the occurrence of the title Lord with reference to Jesus would prove that this use of ku6riov (or the Aramaic mar) began at Jerusalem and not later among the Hellenistic churches. But Luke has a fondness for this title, and historical deductions would be dangerous.
8:1. Saul was consenting: For the Greek word cf. Luke 11:48. Saul was not necessarily an actual member of the Sanhedrin that condemned Stephen. But as a member of the Cilician synagogue he may have taken part in the original dispute, and Luke suggests that the moral consent he gave to the execution carried with it as much responsibility as the actual doing of the deed.
2. The devout men would be Jews rather than Christians, for the law prescribed the burial of executed criminals (Deut. 21:22-23). As apparently no lamentation or wake was permitted after a legal execution, is this another hint of an irregular lynching?
3. Saul laid waste the church: But did he in fact have a part in this particular persecution? Though he confesses several times that he had persecuted the Christians (Gal. 1:13, 23; I Cor. 15:9; Phil. 3:6), it is nowhere stated that he did so in Jerusalem, and from Galatians it would seem that Damascus was the center of his persecuting activity.
3. STORY OF PHILIP (8:4-40)
a) THE MISSION TO SAMARIA (8:4-13)
According to Harnack, 8:4-40 belongs to a source in which interest is divided between Jerusalem and Caesarea; he calls it the "Jerusalem-Caesarean" source and finds its continuation in 9:32-11:18 and 12:1-24. The present section, however, appears to be composite, as, inserted in the story of Philip, we have a paragraph dealing with Peter's visit to Samaria and his encounter with Simon Magus. This "Petrine" interlude may possibly be derived from Jerusalem Source A.
R. B. Rackham well notes that "this chapter is thoroughly Old Testament in its spirit and language, and ... we could imagine that we are reading of a second Elijah or Elisha. ... Like an Old Testament prophet [Philip] wanders about, with sudden and spontaneous movements under the immediate impulse of the Spirit" (The Acts of the Apostles [London: Methuen & Co., 1901; "The Westminster Commentary"], p. 112). Philip is the typical Christian "prophet" and "evangelist." His mission to Samaria is chiefly important as marking the first definite initiative into non-Jewish territory, and was naturally enough undertaken by one who was himself a "Hellenist" and therefore, though no doubt as loyal a Jew as his fellows, would feel a deeper interest in the outside world. For the Samaritans formed a halfway house between Judaism and the Gentile world proper. They were a heterogeneous people of mixed Israelitish and heathen blood. But their religion was genuinely Israelitish; they worshiped Yahweh, kept the sabbath, practiced circumcision. But their holy city was Gerizim, and of the Jewish scripture canon they accepted only the Pentateuch. Though hated and despised by their Jewish neighbors, they were not put upon a level with the heathen; their observance of the law was regarded as very defective, but they were not looked upon as complete aliens; and social intercourse with them, though not frequent, was pronounced by the rabbis to be permissible (John 4:9 must not be taken too literally). Thus Philip's new move involved no definite breach of Jewish law. But it revealed a concern for the Samaritans that no ordinary Jew would feel, and to that extent it marked an advance on the spirit of Judaism in general and an approach to Jesus' own broader sympathy. It is no doubt chiefly for this reason that Luke records the visit.
5. A city of Samaria, the Western text reading, seems preferable to "the city of Samaria" (KJV), for in the N.T. "Samaria" always refers to the territory rather than the capital city Sebaste, and "the city of Samaria," meaning "called Samaria," is an English and not a Greek idiom. Lake and Cadbury guess that the town in question is Gitta, with which Justin Martyr connects Simon Magus.
9-10. For Simon see on 8:14-25. With somebody great cf. Theudas' claim in 5:36 "to be somebody," and Luke 1:32, "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High." Simon, like Theudas, evidently had messianic ambitions. That power of God which is called Great: The sentence is awkward, and the Greek may be a mistranslation of an Aramaic phrase meaning "this is the power of the God who is called Great"--Great being a title used by foreigners of the God of the Jews. Power is a Jewish reverential substitute for "God" (cf. Mark 14:62, "sitting at the right hand of Power," where Luke in his parallel [Luke 22:69] adds, as here, the explanatory words "of God").
12. The kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ: Implying, perhaps in contrast to Simon's false claim, that it was only through Jesus, the true Christ, that the messianic kingdom would come. Lake and Cadbury note that "the usage of Acts suggests ... that Kingdom of God here means the Church--the society of believers in Jesus, who through his representatives, using the power of his name, receive the Holy Spirit which cleanses and saves" (Beginnings of Christianity, IV, 91).
b) THE APOSTLES' CONFIRMATORY VISIT (8:14-25)
This paragraph reads like the account of an episcopal tour of confirmation. Peter and John, like Barnabas on a later occasion (11:22), are sent to investigate a new development in missionary work, to bestow on the converts by the laying on of apostolic hands a grace which presumably Philip could not bestow, and to give to the new Samaritan church the apostolic sanction which was necessary for its regular organization. All this seems to reflect the point of view of a later age when ecclesiasticism had become much more self-conscious. This comes out in three ways: (a) Our author thinks of authority as being centralized in the hands of an apostolic college without whose imprimatur no undertaking was valid. But this is almost certainly to misread history (see on 1:12). No doubt Peter and John did visit Samaria; but the idea that they went as an official delegation to do something that Philip could not do betrays later conceptions. It is very questionable whether the apostles ever constituted an official board with oversight over the whole church in its various local divisions. As A. C. McGiffert says: "It is widely said that the bishops were the successors of the apostles. It would perhaps be as near the truth to say that the apostles were the successors of the bishops! For the official character that has been ascribed to the apostles since the second century was the result of carrying back to them the official character of the bishops" (A History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1896], p. 97 n.). (b) We have here too the suggestion that the Holy Spirit could be conveyed to converts by the mediation of apostles and no others. Luke evidently supposes that Peter and John exercised a peculiar function not possessed by Philip. But such an association of the gift of the Spirit with a particular office or class of men is foreign to the ideas of the early apostolic age, as is shown by Luke himself in other passages--e.g., in 9:17 Ananias, an ordinary disciple, lays his hands on Paul in order that he may receive the Holy Spirit; and in 2:4 no human agent at all is in view. In 2:33 Peter says that the exalted Jesus has poured forth his Spirit, and there is no suggestion that he, as an apostle, can alone mediate the gift. (c) Still less does the tying up of the gift of the Spirit with some specific rite such as baptism or the laying on of hands belong to these earliest months (see also on 6:6). The truly primitive point of view is reflected even by Luke, not only in the passages already referred to, but also in 10:44, 11:15 ff., where it is clearly stated that the Spirit fell on Cornelius and his fellows while Peter was still speaking, and before they were baptized. The evident possession by them of the Christian experience, the fact that they had already "received the Holy Spirit," was precisely the reason urged by Peter that they should then receive baptism--not something which followed the performance of the rite.
Simon, as his traditional name "the Magus" shows, is the typical wonder-working false prophet, and acts as foil to the typical Christian prophet, Philip. The picture suggested by vss. 9-13 of a competition in wonder-working reminds us of Moses' encounter with the magicians of Egypt, or St. Patrick and St. Columba in rivalry with the druids. The decay of orthodox pagan religion had created a keen demand for teachers who by esoteric knowledge of the occult could open up the way to God. The current intermixture of Greek philosophy and Eastern mysticism had given a very varied hue to their pretensions, and the whole Mediterranean world abounded with seers, astrologers, spiritualists, exorcists, and miracle-workers. Some of them were no doubt sincere and able men, as for example Apollonius of Tyana, whose biography by Philostratus rivaled the Gospels in popularity. But the temptation to gain through quackery must have been too strong for most, and the majority were certainly charlatans. From the references in Acts, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus, there seems little doubt that Simon claimed to be Messiah, and instituted in Samaria a movement that was intended to rival Christianity. With his messianic pretensions he seems to have combined Gnostic speculations, including the common conception of a hierarchy of divine emanations or "powers," serving as mediators between God and man, of which he claimed himself to be the chief--"that power of God which is called Great." Justin Martyr tells us that in the reign of Claudius, Simon went to Rome where the senate honored him "with a statue erected upon the Tiber between the two bridges, with the Latin inscription, Simoni Deo Sancto, 'To Simon the Holy God'" (I Apology 26:2). This incredible statement has been explained by the discovery on an island in the Tiber, called "between the two bridges," of an altar inscribed "Semoni Sanco Deo"--Semo Sancus being an ancient Sabine deity! As Streeter says, "Justin's veracity ... is completely vindicated, somewhat at the expense of his intelligence" (The Primitive Church [New York: The Macmillan Co., 1929], p. 13). Besides giving his name to the sin of "simony" or the use of money to attain spiritual ends, Simon came to be regarded in Christian tradition as the father of all heresy. In Justin's day, about one hundred years later, there were heretics called "Simonians." In the Pseudo-Clementine literature of the third century Simon appears as the foremost opponent of Peter in debate in various cities, and in the next century legend is busy with his end. Denounced by Peter at Rome, he seeks to rehabilitate himself by a superlative feat of magic and offers to fly. The experiment has fatal results!
14. John: If, as is probable, this is the son of Zebedee--who had once wished to call down fire on a Samaritan town! (Luke 9:54)--this is the last time he is mentioned in Acts. But it is just possible that the reference is to John Mark (12:25; 15:37), who in 13:13 is called simply "John."
16-17. Here it is not baptism but the laying on of hands that bestows the Spirit. In 19:1 ff. certain Christians at Ephesus, who had not received the Holy Spirit as a result of the "baptism of John," are "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus," and forthwith "when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them." The two passages taken together suggest that "the baptism of the early church was a conflation of the water-baptism of John with the Christian baptism which was the gift of the Spirit," and that "possibly the 'laying on of hands' was the specifically Christian element in baptism" (Beginnings of Christianity, IV, 93). See also on 2:37.
20. Gift: The Greek word means a free gift that cannot be bought.
22-24. If possible: the question being, of course, Simon's repentance. In the gall of bitterness: An echo of Deut. 29:18, where the first phrase relates to idolatry. The ERV mg. has "thou wilt become gall of bitterness"--i.e., Simon's sin will be a root of bitter dispute in the church. Bond of iniquity is from Isa. 58:6. Simon is held fast by the chain of his sin. The Western text ends vividly, "and he ceased not weeping greatly."
c) PHILIP AND THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH (8:26-40)
The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is most vividly told, very much in the style of a narrative from the books of Samuel or Kings. Was the eunuch a Jew or a Gentile? Eusebius refers to him as the first Gentile to embrace Christianity; so this Ethiopian has sometimes been regarded as an uncircumcised heathen, and his baptism as the first departure from the principle that Christianity was only for Jews, either native or proselyte. But there is nothing in the story to suggest any such far-reaching innovation. The fact that the Ethiopian was a pilgrim returning from Jerusalem, and that he was reading Isaiah, indicates that already he was at least a Jewish proselyte. Luke quite evidently regards not his case, but that of Cornelius, as the first admission of an uncircumcised Gentile. The stress laid on all the details of Cornelius' case, on the scruples that Peter found so hard to overcome, and on the controversy which the incident precipitated at Jerusalem--all this proves that Luke is describing what he considers to be the first case of the baptism of a heathen. He can hardly have thought of it as a mere repetition of the present event. The conversion of the Ethiopian is significant, not as introducing a new principle, but as an illustration of how far afield the gospel was already spreading. The most important feature of the story is the emergence for the first time of the great suffering servant passage in Isa. 53:1 as a specifically quoted text for Christian apologetic. If we can believe that the story rests on authentic tradition, this is of the greatest possible significance.
Vss. 26-40 contain a number of echoes of the story of Elijah (cf. I Kings 18:12; II Kings 2:16-17) which, combined with the echoes of Zephaniah noted below (on 8:26), have suggested to some scholars that the whole story may have been built up out of reminiscences extracted from the O.T. This appears a fantastic explanation of what is much more probably a perfectly natural coloring of the narrative by O.T. language.
26. An angel: Compare this verse with vss. 29 and 39, and note the interesting interchange between "angel" and "spirit." Cf. also 10:3 with 10:19, and see 23:8. Toward the south: This seems the most natural translation; but in the LXX the Greek word always means "midday," and it is possible that we ought here to translate "about noon" (cf. Zeph. 2:4; RSV mg.). Several curious verbal echoes of the LXX of Zephaniah occur in the narrative, including the use of this word and the mention of Ethiopia, Gaza, and Azotus (cf. this verse with Zeph. 2:4; vs. 27 with Zeph. 2:11-12; 3:10; vs. 39 with Zeph. 3:4). This is a desert road: Perhaps more probably "this place [i.e., Gaza] is deserted." Old Gaza, about two miles from the sea, had been destroyed by Alexander and was at this time "deserted." New Gaza, on the coast, was not destroyed till A.D. 66. The clause reads like an editorial note.
27. An Ethiopian: The Ethiopians were the Nubian race dwelling in the Nile region south of Egypt proper. It is only in modern times that they have been confused with the Abyssinians, who ethnologically and linguistically are Semitic. A eunuch: As such he would be excluded by the law from the "assembly of the Lord"; but for the more charitable prophetic attitude see Isa. 56:3 ff. To worship (proskunh6swn), or "on a pilgrimage." Proskunhth6v is the regular modern Greek word for a "pilgrim" (cf. 24:11).
32-33. The quotation is from the LXX of Isa. 53:7-8 and is important as the first definite application of the passage to Jesus as the suffering Servant. Have we a clue to anything characteristic of Luke's view of Christ's death in the fact that the quotation, as here employed, avoids Isaiah's several references to bearing the sins of others, while Luke also omits both Mark's "give his life as a ransom for many" (cf. Luke 22:27 with Mark 10:45), and also--in the shorter Western text--his reference to the "blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (cf. Luke 22:19 with Mark 14:24)? Of vs. 33, Lake and Cadbury say: "The meaning of the original is apparently as obscure to Hebrew scholars as are these Greek words. ... The truth seems to be that the translators did not know what the meaning of the Hebrew was, and gave a literal but unintelligible rendering" (Beginnings of Christianity, IV, 97). But see on 13:36.
36. After the words What is to prevent my being baptized? the Western text adds, "And Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he replied, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" (RSV mg.; vs. 37 in KJV.) This probably represents the earliest form of the baptismal creed; and it is noticeable that it is an expansion, not of the trinitarian formula, but of the primitive formula "in the name of Jesus Christ."
39. The Spirit of the Lord: cf. II Kings 2:16. In Acts the phrase is used only here; but cf. 16:7, "the Spirit of Jesus," which is probably the meaning here, the title "Lord" being transferred as usual from Yahweh to Christ. No gift of the Spirit is said to follow baptism, unless we read with the Western text, "The Holy Spirit fell on the eunuch, but the angel of the Lord caught away Philip."
40. Azotus is the O.T. Ashdod. Among all the towns visited may have been Lydda and Joppa, where Peter, in 9:32, may have followed up and confirmed Philip's work, just as he had previously done in Samaria. Caesarea was the headquarters of the Roman procurators of Judea. Apparently it was Philip's home, for in 21:8 he is still resident there.