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 5:17-26

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 14, 2012

17. Then the high priest rising up, and all they that were with him, (which is the heresy of the Sadducees,) were filled with envy.

The high priest; i.e., Annas (see Acts 6:6), or probably Caiphas, and all who belonged to the heretical body of the Sadducees, rose up, determined to use force against the Apostles.

They were filled with envy. In both Jewish and Pagan literature this vice was often associated with the desire to murder (see Wisdom 2:24; Acts 7:9; Acts 17:5).

18. And they laid hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.

And they laid hands on the apostles. The Greek is  και επεβαλον τας χειρας επι τους αποστολους. The word επεβαλον can be much more expressive than the translation laid communicates: “they threw their hands upon the apostles,” suggesting violence. The word can have a rather benign sense, as when a man puts his hand to the plow (Luke 9:62), or places a patch on a garment (Luke 5:36), but the context here warrants a much stronger reading (see Luke 20:19; Luke 21:12; Acts 4:3; Acts 21:7).

19. But an angel of the Lord by night opening the doors of the prison, and leading them out, said,

Angels figure prominently in Luke/Acts as both messengers (Luke 1:11-20; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 24:1-12~see with Luke 24:22-23; Acts 8:26; Acts 10:3, etc), as protectors (Acts 12:6-15), and as consolers (Luke 22:43; Acts 27:23).

20. Go, and standing speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.

All the words, etc.; i.e., all the doctrines and teachings of Jesus Christ which were taught in this new Christian life, and which are the way to supernatural and eternal life.

The words of this life may be intended to recall the description of Jesus as the author of life in Acts 3:14.

21. Who having heard this, early in the morning, entered into the temple, and taught. And the high priest coming, and they that were with him, called together the council, and all the ancients of the children of Israel; and they sent to the prison to have them brought.

All the ancients, etc. These were probably influential leaders among the Jews, who on very important occasions were called to take part in the deliberations of the Sanhedrim.

22. But when the ministers came, and opening the prison, found them not there, they returned and told,
23. Saying: The prison indeed we found shut with all diligence, and the keepers standing before the doors ; but opening it, we found no man within.

Ministers. The Greek word υπηρεται originally referred to an under-oarsmen on a naval vessel. The term came to designate anyone in a subordinate position, a servant over whom other servants had authority; the proverbial “low man on the totem pole.”

The fact that the prison had to be opened (vs. 22) and the testimony that the prison was found shut with all diligence (23), explains the doubt of the temple officers (vs 24, below). It also emphasizes the miraculous nature of what took place, but Luke does not exploit this aspect.

24. Now when the officer of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were in doubt concerning them, what would come to pass.

They were in doubt; i.e., they were perplexed and embarrassed that this event should have occurred and become known. They knew of the previous miracles of the Apostles, and now they had no reason to doubt that God had again intervened and liberated them from prison.

The doubt (διηπορουν) mentioned here calls to mind the perplexity of Herod regarding the identity of Jesus (διηπορει in Luke 9:7), and the people’s reaction to the manifestation of the Spirit on Pentecost (διηπορουντο in Acts 2:12).

25. But one came and told them : Behold, the men whom you put in prison, are in the temple standing, and teaching the people.

Their teaching the people was a direct violation of the orders previously given to Saints Peter and John by the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:18. On that occasion the two Apostles had responded by saying: If it be just, in the sight of God, to hear you rather than God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20). The authority of the Jewish leaders has passed away (Luke 20:9-19).

26. Then went the officer with the ministers, and brought them without violence; for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.

They feared the people. See Luke 20:19; Luke 22:2.

4 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 5:17-26”

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  4. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 5:17-26). […]

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