The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly Commentary on Acts 4:13-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 29, 2011

Notes in red represent my additions.

Act 4:13: Now seeing the constancy of Peter and of John, understanding that they were illiterate and ignorant men, they wondered; and they knew them that they had been with Jesus.

Constancy,  in Greek, boldness of speech, implying also intrepidity and courage in circumstances of danger.

And of John. We have no evidence here that John spoke. Likely he showed by his countenance that he assented to what Peter spoke, and endorsed it. Possibly he may have spoken, though not recorded here.

Ignorant, Greek, ιδιωται (idiotai), men leading a private life, not used to speak in public, displaying the character of rudeness, peculiar to the Galileans (Matthew 26:73). Hence, their surprise, they wondered.

They knew that they had been with Jesus.  Some of the Assessors of the Sanhedrin could not but have seen Peter and John on more than one occasion present with the other Apostles when our Lord taught in public. St. John was known to the High Priest (John 18:15. This assumes that the disciple mentioned there is the same as the Beloved Disciple). Knowing, then, these ignorant, timid Galileans to have been disciples of our Lord, they could not understand the extraordinary change wrought in them, so as to become so eloquent and courageous. This added to their confusion and astonishment.

Act 4:14  Seeing the man also who had been healed, standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

The presence of the man, whose cure could not be gainsayed, added to their perplexity as to what course to pursue.  The Greek word translated “against” is αντειπειν (anteipein), meaning to refute, deny, gainsay. What Jesus had said regarding the witness of his followers under persecution here is shown to extend to their miraculous deeds: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay (anteipein) (Luke 21:15).The reason the authorities cannot deny or gainsay what had happened is due to the fact that the formerly lame man was well known (Acts 3:10). Finally, what they cannot gainsay or deny is the resurrection power at work in the Apostles in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:15-16; 4:2, 7-10) .

Act 4:15  But they commanded them to go aside out of the council: and they conferred among themselves,

Out of the council, the place where the council was held.

Conferred. There may be a vague allusion to Psalm 2:2. The gathered Christains will refer to this Psalm when they pray after learning of what Peter and John had suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:24-28).

Act 4:16  Saying: What shall we do to these men? For indeed a miracle hath been done by them, known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It is manifest: and we cannot deny it.

What shall we do to these men? Provides a contrast with those who had heard Peter’s speech on Pentecost. On that occasion the listeners had asked, “What are we to do, brothers?” (Acts 2:37).  The repentant seek to do the will of the Lord by listening to his messengers, the unrepentant seek to do their own will against those messengers.

A more literal translation of the leaders words would read: What shall we do to these men? because that, indeed, a known sign hath been done through them, to all those dwelling in Jerusalem is manifest, and we are not able to deny it. The placement of “known” before “sign” is unusual and ironically provides an emphatic contrast with what the leaders are doing as they make the statement. The  sign (and the teaching which followed it) was very public; it was to all those dwelling in Jerusalem made manifest, in contrast, the Sanhedrin is attempting to hatch a plot in secret to counteract the sign/teaching.

Act 4:17  But that it may be no farther spread among the people, let us threaten them that they speak no more in this name to any man.

Let us threaten them. The Greek word here translated as threaten is ἀπειλή (apeilē ). The word will appear again in Acts 4:29, part of the Church’s prayer response to the persecutions and threats suffered by Peter and John.

Act 4:18  And calling them, they charged them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus.

Fancying these timid Galileans would not dare to violate an order coming from so powerful a body they charged them, commanded them, not to speak at all, in Greek, μη φθεγγεσθαι, literally, open their lips. Little did they take into account the change wrought in them, and the spirit of fortitude that descended on them.

Charge them not to speak at all.  The Greek word translated here as speak is φθέγγομαι (phtheggomai), it was last used in Acts 2:4~And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.  In ordering them not to speak in the name of Jesus they are setting themselves against the Holy Spirit who empowered the Apostles to preach repentance in the name of Jesus.

Prior to its usage in Acts 2:4 the word φθέγγομαι (phtheggomai) last appeared in Luke’s writing as an introduction to Christ’s parable of the Tenant Farmers: And he began to speak to the people this parable (Luke 20:9). That parable was spoken against the Jewish leaders and concerned the fact that by their actions they would be replaced as caretakers of the Lord’s vineyard (i.e., his people, his Church). It was on this same occasion that our lord made reference to Psalm 118:22The stone which the builders rejected; the same is become the head of the corner. These words Peter has just spoken to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:11 to introduce the theme of Jesus’ Name~This is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12). By proceeding against the old caretakers of the vineyard the Apostles are showing that it has now been put into their care.

Act 4:19  But Peter and John answering, said to them: If it be just, in the sight of God, to hear you rather than God, judge ye.

The Apostles intrepidly, but modestly, reply, by appealing to themselves if it was just in the sight of God, who judges all things truly, to hear and obey them rather than God, whose will and mandate they were carrying out, to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”

Act 4:20  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.

For knowing for certain that Christ is the Messiah, who commanded them to preach the Gospel, they declare they could not be silent, thereby conveying they could not obey the Sanhedrin in this matter.

The Sanhedrin had seen and heard things which they could not themselves deny, yet they attempt to deny the Apostles the right to proclaim them. In God’s sight (verse 19) this is unjustifiable. Just because the Sanhedrin refuses to see, it does not follow that God or man should obey them in their hypocrisy.

Act 4:21  But they, threatening, sent them away, not finding how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified what had been done, in that which had come to pass.

Threatening them, in a still more stern way, Not finding how they might punish them. They could not punish them without causing a tumult among the people and losing their own influence.

Glorified what had been done, In Greek, glorified God for what had been done on account of the miracle.

See Luke 19:48; 20:6, 19, 26; 21:38; 22:2.

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3 Responses to “Father MacEvilly Commentary on Acts 4:13-21”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 4:13-21). […]

  2. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 4:13-21). […]

  3. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 4:13-21). […]

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