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 Callan’s Commentary on Acts 9:1-22

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 12, 2011

Please Note: The verse numbering of this translation may not match that of others.

I’ve added just a few brief notes of my own (in red) to this commentary. I hope to add some more later today or tomorrow. I’ll mark the post title as UPDATED if this plan comes to fruition.

1. And Saul, as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,
2. And asked of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogues: that if he found any men and women of this way, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, but a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, and therefore by birth a Roman citizen. As a youth he was taken to Jerusalem and studied at the feet of Gamaliel. He belonged to the strictest sect of the Pharisees and was zealous above all others for the Pharisaic observances. St. Paul was most probably converted in a.d. 35, and was about thirty years old at the time. See on Acts 7:57.

Full of deadly hate towards the Christian, Saul was not satisfied with what happened to St. Stephen, but, continuing to persecute the Church, he wanted to extend the persecution outside of Palestine. He therefore went to the High Priest, Annas, and requested “letters” authorizing him to persecute the Christians in Damascus, if he should find there any men or women of this way, i.e., of the Christian way of living. Damascus was the capital of Syria and situated about 125 miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was taken by the Romans under Pompey, but later (a.d. 37-38) fell to the Arabian king Aretas in the latter’s war with Herod Antipas. The Jews in Damascus at this time were very numerous, and their synagogues were many.

St. Paul wanted to bring any Christians he might find in Damascus to Jerusalem, in order that they might there be punished by the supreme council, or Sanhedrim, for what was considered their apostasy and blasphemy.

3. And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him.

There are three distinct accounts given of the conversion of St. Paul,—here, in chapter 22, and in chapter 26. The first is for Christian readers, the second was addressed to Jews, and the third to Agrippa and Festus.

A light . . . shined, etc. ; i.e., a heavenly illumination appeared at midday (Acts 26:13).

4. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

Saul, Saul, etc. These words show the tenderness and compassion of Christ both toward the persecutor and the persecuted members of His mystical body, the Church. To persecute the faithful was to persecute our Lord Himself; to persecute the body was to persecute the Head.

5. Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.  It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.

I am Jesus. Our Lord stood before St. Paul in His glorified humanity, all radiant with light. It is hard for thee to kick, etc. These words are wanting here in the best MSS., but they are found in Acts 26:14. The goad was a long stick with an iron point at the end, used by drovers to urge on oxen or cattle. To kick against it was to suffer injury. The goad in St. Paul’s case was the grace of God, the interior promptings of which he was resisting.

6. And he trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
7. And the Lord said to him : Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do. Now the men who went in company with him, stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man.

Prostrate and trembling before his Master, Paul asks only to know what he should do; and our Lord tells him to go into the city of Damascus, and there God shall declare to him His will by means of Ananias. Paul must first be baptized and received into the Church by the ministers appointed by God.

Lord, what wilt Thou have me do? An imortant theme in Luke/Acts See Luke 3:10, 12, 14; Acts 2:37.

The men . . . stood amazed. Those in company with St. Paul had also fallen to the ground (Acts 26:14), but were now standing in amazement.

The rationalists contend that there is a plain contradiction between the statement of this verse, ” the men . . . stood amazed,” literally, speechless, and Acts 26:14, where Paul declare they all fell to the ground. Answer: There is no reason why both statements could not have been true. As just said above, the men in company with St. Paul could first have fallen to the ground from fright, and then stood up in amazement at what they saw and heard. But Pape and other critics hold that the ειστηκεισαν of the present verse has the sense of an emphatic etvai, which could simply mean that the men became amazed and speechless; thus there would be no difference between the statement here given and that in Acts 26:14.

Hearing indeed a voice, etc. In Acts 22:9 St. Paul seems to say the very contrary of this. Answer: Just as in Acts 22:9 the companions saw a light, but perceived no person, so here they heard a human voice, i.e., a noise, but understood no words.  “Audiebant vocem solam, non vocem cum verbis” (Bengel). Hence there is no contradiction.

The marginal reading of this verse in the Revised Edition of Oxford has rendered the words  ακουοντες μεν της, hearing the sound. But when St. Luke in Acts 22:9 speaks of the articulate voice of Christ which was audible to St. Paul alone, he employs the phrase ηκουσαν φωνην. Thus the same word, φωνή, by a different grammatical construction, may signify an inarticulate sound which all Paul’s company heard, or the distinct and articulate voice which Paul alone heard.

8. And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus.
9. And he was there three days, without sight, and he did neither eat nor drink.

He saw nothing,—his eyes being still dazzled by the brightness that shone in our Lord’s glorified body. His sight was withheld from him for three days, doubtless to give him time to consider in prayer and without distraction what had happened to him.

10. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision: Ananias. And he said: Behold I am here, Lord.

Ananias was certainly a devout Christian, and an influential member of the Church at Damascus, but more we do not know about him. Some have thought he was one of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord.

11. And the Lord said to him: Arise, and go into the street that is called Strait, and seek in the house of Judas, one named Saul of Tarsus. For behold he prayeth.

Strait was a broad street in Damascus running from east to west; it still exists in part. Of Judas here mentioned nothing further is known. Tarsus was the capital of CiHcia in southeastern Asia Minor.

12. (And he saw a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hands upon him, that he might receive his sight.)

Some take this verse to be a parenthesis inserted by St. Luke for sake of clearness; others, with less probability, think it a continuation of the words of our Lord.

13. But Ananias answered: Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints in Jerusalem.
14. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that invoke thy name.

Ananias was much surprised that our Lord should ask him to go to so great a persecutor of the faithful in Jerusalem, and one who had come to Damascus for the express purpose of continuing his persecutions of the ”saints,” as the Christians were commonly called.

15. And the Lord said to him: Go thy way; for this man is to me a vessel of election, to carry my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.

A vessel of election; i.e., a chosen instrument to carry the Gospel to the whole world. Vas electionis of the Vulgate is a Hebraism meaning chosen instrument. The Jews were not excluded from Paul’s labor and preaching, but his chief work was among the Gentiles. By kings were perhaps meant Agrippa, Felix, Festus, and Nero.

16. For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

He must suffer, etc. See 2 Cor 11:23-29; 12:10; Col 1:24, where we find described some of the Apostle’s sufferings. For a very good, non-technical commentary on 2 Corinthians see SECOND CORINTHIANS, by Thomas Stegman, S.J.  See also St Thomas Aquinas’ LECTURES ON SECOND CORINTHIANS (online). See also Aquinas’ LECTURES ON COLOSSIANS (online).

17. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house. And laying his hands upon him, he said: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus hath sent me, he that appeared to thee in the way as thou earnest; that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and rising up, he was baptized.

The sudden cure of St. Paul’s blindness shows that it was miraculous. He was baptized. Baptism is necessary for membership in the Church of Christ and for eternal salvation. The necessary instruction which should precede it was given, in St. Paul’s case, by our Lord Himself (Gal 1:11, 12).

19. And when he had taken meat, he was strengthened. And he was with the disciples that were at Damascus, for some days.

He was with the disciples, etc.; i.e., with the Christians who were in Damascus. St. Paul at this time remained only a few days at Damascus, and then went into Arabia, where he stayed for a while (Gal 1:17, 18). Returning later to Damascus, he tarried there for some time before undertaking his first journey to Jerusalem. This visit to Jerusalem was three years after his conversion. St. Luke omits all mention of St. Paul’s stay in Arabia, because it was not to his purpose; but he speaks in the present verse of the Saint’s first visit to Damascus, and in verse 22 he is talking of the second one before going to Jerusalem.

It is vain for Weiss, Wendt, Weizaeher, and others to contend that St. Luke here (verses 19-28) and St. Paul, writing to the Galatians (Gal 1:17, 18), are in contradiction. Neither of these inspired writers intended to give his readers a complete history of the events he touched upon, but only to group together those things which he deemed necessary and suitable to his purpose and scope. These latter being different, each writer, although treating of the same event, omits irrelevant details which the other gives. But while St. Luke has here omitted St. Paul’s journey into Arabia and his sojourn there, he has not failed to give evidence that such an omission has been made. In the present verse the author speaks of St. Paul’s stay in Damascus as covering only “some days,” and of his preaching as surprising or “astonishing” the Jews; but in verses 22, 23 there is question of events that took place only after “many days had passed,” and after which period of time St. Paul had “increased much in strength,” and was not only surprising the Jews by his preaching, but was “confounding” them so much by his arguments that they were ” consulting together to kill him.” That St. Luke’s “many days ”  may mean a long period must be admitted from his frequent use of the adjective in the sense of long duration. Cf. Luke 8:27, 20:9; Acts 8:11; 14:3, 21; 18:18, etc. For similar use of “days ” in the sense of a long period cf. 1 Chron 23:1, 28; 2 Chron 24:15; Job 8:9; 7:1; 1 Kings 2:28; Prov 3:2, 16, etc.

Since, therefore, it is usual with the sacred writers to indicate longer periods of time by such expressions as “after many days,” it is evident that a considerable space intervened between the ”some days” and the surprising preaching of verses 19-21, and the “many days” and confounding preaching of verses 22, 23; to this longer intervening space, then, we are to ascribe St. Paul’s retirement to Arabia and his three years’ sojourn there before returning to Damascus.

20. And immediately he preached Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
21. And all that heard him, were astonished, and said: Is not this he who persecuted in Jerusalem those that called upon this name: and came hither for that intent, that he might carry them bound to the chief priests?

Immediately St. Paul began to declare to the Jews in the synagogues of Damascus that Christ was the Son of God and the promised Messiah. The Jews and Christians alike were astonished and could not understand the change so suddenly produced in one who, till then, had been the great enemy of the Christians, and had come to Damascus for the purpose of persecuting them there. Soon, however, he departed for Arabia, where in solitude he was instructed by Christ Himself in regard to the doctrine of the Gospel.

22. But Saul increased much more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, affirming that this is the Christ.

After his period of solitude and prayer in Arabia, during which he became more familiar with Christian doctrines, St. Paul revisited Damascus, and not only preached Christ to the Jews with great force, but combated them, answered their difficulties, reducing them to silence.

4 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 9:1-22”

  1. […] Father Callan on Today’s First Reading (Acts 9:1-20). […]

  2. […] Alternate 1st Reading: Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 9:1-22. […]

  3. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 9:1-20. Actually, notes up to vs. 22. […]

  4. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 9:1-20. On 1-22. […]

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