Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 3:11-26
Posted by Dim Bulb on March 26, 2016
This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s very brief analysis of Acts chapter 3, followed by his comments on verses 11-26. Text in red, if any, are my additions.
AN ANALYSIS OF ACTS CHAPTER 3
In this chapter we have an account of the miraculous cure, by St. Peter, of a lame man, with several accompanying circumstances, which placed the reality of the miracle beyond all cavil or dispute, and elicited the wonder and amazement of the people (1–12). The address of Peter, showing that this miracle was brought about, not by human agency, but by the power of Christ and by faith in Him (12–17). His exhortation to penance recommended on several grounds (19–26).
Act 3:11 And as he held Peter and John, all the people ran to them, to the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.
“Held Peter and John.” Closely clinging to them in token of gratitude as they were leaving the Temple after prayer.
“All the people” moved by curiosity at what occurred assembled in this place of public resort at the hour of prayer, which furnished St. Peter with a suitable opportunity of preaching the truth of the Christian faith. “Porch,” a covered passage on the east side of the Temple, “of Solomon.” This was a part of the great Temple of Solomon, which escaped demolition at the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nabuchodonozor (2 Kings 25:15). It was to the East of the Temple. Hence, called by Josephus the Oriental Portico (Antiq. xx. 9, 7).
Act 3:12 But Peter seeing, made answer to the people: Ye men of Israel, why wonder you at this? Or why look you upon us, as if by our strength or power we had made this man to walk?
“Made answer,” does not always mean a reply to a question. Frequently it is used, as here, to signify making a statement or entering on a discourse with or without a previous question.
“Strength or power.” The Greek word for “power” means piety or religious merit. This is preferred by some, as the Vulgate reading would seem to be a more tautology. The Vulgate, however, is preferred by many eminent commentators, as more emphatically describing the feelings of the people who regarded not the piety or personal merits of the Apostles, but their power only.
Act 3:13 The God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus, whom you indeed delivered up and denied before the face of Pilate, when he judged he should be released.
“The God of Abraham,” &c. The friend, the protector and bountiful rewarder of Abraham, &c. Speaking to Moses (Exod. 3:6, &c.) God first called Himself by that epithet.
“The God of our Fathers.” He it is that performed this wonder (v. 16).
“Hath glorified,” honoured His Son, Jesus. “Whom you delivered up” to the Romans to be crucified, “and denied” to be your Messiah, your promised deliverer, “before the face of Pilate,” who, convinced of His innocence, “for he could find no cause in Him,” judged that He should be released. Against the deliberate judgment of a Pagan judge, who through fear afterwards consented to condemn Him, they insisted on His death, thus displaying the intensity of their malice and deliberate hate.
Act 3:14 But you denied the Holy One and the Just: and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.
“The Holy One.” An epithet frequently applied to our Lord (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). The article prefixed in the Greek designates Him as “Holy” of His own essence and Divine nature. Infinite sanctity itself.
“A murderer,” Barabbas. Here their conduct is powerfully contrasted with that of Pilate, a pagan, not favoured with the lights vouchsafed to them.
Act 3:15 But the author of life you killed, whom God hath raised from the dead: of which we are witnesses.
“Author of life.” Our Lord is the source of all life, physical and spiritual. A powerful contrast here between Barabbas, the destroyer of life, and Jesus, the source of it in all.
“God raised from the dead.” The Resurrection of Christ, the foundation of all Christian faith, is frequently insisted on in several passages of the New Testament.
“We are witnesses.” The Apostles, disciples, and several followers of our Lord, amounting to a vast number, saw our Lord after His Resurrection, and conversed with Him. God Himself confirmed their testimony regarding this fundamental truth, with miracles.
Act 3:16 And in the faith of his name, this man, whom you have seen and known, hath his name strengthened. And the faith which is by him hath given this perfect soundness in the sight of you all.
“In the faith,” &c. The faith of Peter and John. It don’t appear the man cured had any faith or knowledge of Him previously.
“Hath his name,” that is, himself, “strengthened,” by our power and strength, “whom you have seen and known” to be a cripple from his birth.
“Faith which is in Him.” In our Lord Jesus Christ, as author and finisher of our faith.
“Perfect soundness.” The Greek conveys complete restoration to the use of his limbs.
“In the sight of you all.” It is incontestible, and will stand the test of investigation.
Act 3:17 And now, brethren, I know that you did it through ignorance: as did also your rulers.
After having proved, by a freedom of speech truly Apostolic, that they were guilty of the hideous crime of Deicide, and uttered hard truths. He now wishes to extenuate their guilt, addressing them “as brethren,” and by kindness He wishes to inspire them with hope of pardon. He puts forward the same excuse, “ignorance,” which our Lord Himself advanced in their behalf—“they know not what they do.” He by no means insinuates that they were innocent. He had stated the contrary (v. 14). But, with a view of moving them to repentance by the hope of pardon, He says, their crime, in itself enormous, was extenuated by the fact of their not knowing Him to be their long-expected Messiah.
“As did also your rulers.” The chief men among the Jews were more guilty than the masses of the people. From the evidences placed before them, they could have known that He was their long expected Messiah. Blinded by passion, they, in their fury, proceeded to compass the death of a just man, whom a pagan judge pronounced innocent. Had they known Him to be the long expected Deliverer of their nation, they would not have treated Him as they had done. Still, they were not innocent or free from guilt.
Act 3:18 But those things which God before had shewed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.
Anticipating an objection that might suggest itself—viz., if Christ were the Messiah, why suffer Himself to be thus treated? St. Peter shows, if He did not, He could not be regarded as the Messiah at all, since, all the prophets concurred in predicting his death and sufferings. All these occurrences were predicted beforehand, and God caused them to be fulfilled in the manner predicted. Without altogether excusing them or pronouncing them innocent—for they were afterwards called upon to repent for their wickedness—St. Peter prudently mitigates the hard sentence passed upon them, and wishes to excite them to sorrow and the hope of pardon, from the consideration that, although sinning, they were the instruments in carrying out the merciful design of God in the way in which it occurred—viz., through Jewish malice, the redemption of all mankind, themselves included. The foreknowledge of God did not diminish their guilt. For God foresaw it in the way it was to happen—viz., freely, through their deliberate guilt and malice. The Apostle mentions it to inspire them with the hope of pardon. How all the prophets foretold is not so clear. It is understood of the prophets in a general way, or taken on the whole, without stating that each individual prophet foretold it. However, it may be said that they all either literally or mystically, explicitly or implicitly, foretold it. Hence, of our Lord on His way to Emmaus, it is said that “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded the things said concerning Him” (Luke 24:27).
Act 3:19 Be penitent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.
“Therefore,” as your sin so heinous, though extenuated by ignorance, resulted in the redemption of mankind, “repent and be converted” to the Lord, who mercifully ransomed you, in order that, with the hope of pardon in your hearts, “your sins may be blotted out” and cleansed away by a full remission. The idea, according to some, is borrowing from the practice among the ancients of effacing with the blunt end of the stylus, characters impressed on soft wax by the sharp point of same. It also is allusion to the act of creditors blotting out debts due (Coll. 2:14). According to others, the idea is borrowed from the practice of washing parchment and effacing the characters impressed. This would very appropriately apply to the remission of sins in the waters of Baptism.
Act 3:20 That when the times of refreshment shall come from the presence of the Lord, and he shall send him who hath been preached unto you, Jesus Christ.
“When the times,” &c. The Greek for “when” is ὁπως—that, or, in order that, signifying the final cause. The passage, which is not free from difficulties in its construction, would mean—in order that the times of refreshment would be accelerated when, after the toils and warfare of this life, they shall be admitted to that everlasting rest, that sabbatism which God enjoys and shares with His servants (Heb. 4:3–7); a refreshment which “shall come from the presence of the Lord.” “Presence of the Lord,” by a Hebrew idiom means the Lord Himself, who is to confer it.
“And He shall send Him,” His eternal Son, “Jesus Christ,” who hath been preached to you.” The Greek word for “preached” means pre-ordained, or marked out by God, at the end of time, at his second coming to judgment, to confirm the promises made your Fathers (Rom. 15:8). The final end of all things is not to arrive, till after the conversion of the Jews (Rom. 11:26–29). The passage would then seem to convey, that the conversion of the Jewish people would have the effect of bringing on the final end of all things sooner, than would otherwise occur, in the designs of God’s Providence.
Act 3:21 Whom heaven indeed must receive, until the times of the restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets, from the beginning of the world.
“Whom heaven, indeed, must receive.” It was a common belief among the Jews, that the Messiah would reign on earth for ever (John 12:34). St. Peter meets this prejudice by declaring he ascended into Heaven, as seen by the Apostles and others.
“Until the time of the restoration of all things,” the full restoration of all things had already commenced with our Lord’s coming, to be completed on the day of judgment (2 Peter 3:13). It would be a “restoration” of mankind to the condition destined for them, if man had not fallen.
The visible creation has been deteriorated by sin. It now groans and yearns for its emancipation from the slavery of corruption, to the full enjoyment of the liberty suited to the Sons of God (Rom. 8; 2 Peter 3:10–13). The Apostle in this passage wishes to convey, that if the Jewish nation became repentant and turned to God, the end of all things would soon come, and the human race put in the enjoyment of peace and rest, after being restored to the condition they would have been in, had man originally not fallen, and continued faithful to God.
Act 3:22 For Moses said: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me: him you shall hear according to all things whatsoever he shall speak to you.
“For, Moses,” &c. Among the other Prophets who prophesied regarding our Lord as their Messiah, was Moses whose authority, as their Lawgiver, was of the greatest weight with the Jews. St. Peter shows here that far from opposing or giving up the Law of Moses—in preaching our Lord, they are only carrying out the express commands of Moses, who himself uttered a prediction regarding Him and inculcated obedience to Him.
“A Prophet shall the Lord your God,” &c., “raise up,” commission, authorize to come to you.
Looking to the context of Deut., whence these words are taken (18:15–17) several commentators include under the word “Prophet” a series of authorized teachers, whom God would, from time to time, send to withhold the Jewish people from the false teachers, Diviners, &c., of the neighbouring Idolotrous Gentiles. Whatever may be the truth of that opinion, the word admittedly, refers to our Lord, who was by excellence the greatest among these teachers. The Jews themselves would seem to understand it so. “Art thou the Prophet?” (John 1.) Moses commands them to obey Him, which they can still do, since He lives and exercises supreme authority in Heaven. They should, therefore, attend to the injunctions of Moses in reference to Him.
“Of your own brethren,” your own race and nation, “like unto me.” There are several points of similarity, not equality. They were not, however, similar in all things, but only in some points, especially as to making known the will of God to the people, both being “raised up,” or commissioned by God to do this. The comparison can be urged no further, nor in other respects. The difference between both being infinite (Heb. 3:3, 7).
Act 3:23 And it shall be, that every soul which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people.
“It shall be.” It will surely, and, of necessity, take place, St. Peter quotes from Deuteronomy not literally, but only the meaning.
“Which will not hear,” or obey, that Prophet commissioned with authority to declare the will of God.
“Shall be destroyed.” For which it is in Hebrew. “I shall require it of him,” that is, make him answer for it. In the Septuagint, it is, “I shall be present, as an avenger,” shall punish him. The usual way for punishing grievous sinners among the Jews was, by exterminating them from among the people, subjecting them to all the penalties of excommunication; thus depriving them of all the privileges of the Jewish people and cutting them off, which was the greatest punishment inflicted by Jewish law. From this, those present could see that by continuing to disobey our Lord, they would be subjected to the heaviest punishment here and hereafter. Here, in the utter destruction of their city and the attendant horrors, which the Christians being forwarned, escaped by flying to Pella. But as he speaks of the punishment at the final restoration of all things, most likely, there is question of their punishment hereafter, in the day of judgment and the Eternal tortures of Hell. As they could now have recourse to him, although in Heaven, they should do so and repent of their sins.
Act 3:24 And all the prophets, from Samuel and afterwards, who have spoken, have told of these days.
“And.” In Greek means, nay even. Not only Moses, who holds the highest place, but, “all the Prophets,” denoting many of them, in general, without specifying them individually, “from Samuel,” who with all the Prophets that succeeded him, “have told, of those days.” Have distinctly foretold the several occurrences that took place in connection with Jesus of Nazareth, all the events of His life from His birth, from the commencement of His reign on earth, till the final consummation of all things. To these predictions the Jews should pay heed. Likely, from Moses to Samuel no Prophet arose, God was consulted in the interim and gave His responses through Urim and Thummim (Exod. 28:30; Numbers 27:21).
We have hardly any Prophecy of Samuel relating to our Lord, unless it be the famous Prophecy of Nathan, recorded (2 Kings 7:13, 14), which the Jews called and Samuel, (as they considered 1st and 2nd Kings, was written by Samuel, at least in part); and, hence, as recorded by him, this is called Samuel’s prediction. Or, it may be St. Peter refers to some Prophecy of Samuel relating to our Lord, not written, but, known to the Jews.
Act 3:25 You are the children of the prophets and of the testament which God made to our fathers, saying to Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
“The children” (in Greek, sons) “of the Prophets,” not that they were the lineal descendants of the prophets. The Hebrew words often mean, as here, those to whom any thing belongs, whether by inheritance or otherwise. The meaning, then, is, they, it is, to whom the oracles of the Prophets appertain, also the Covenant made by God with their Fathers, Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 26:4), Isaac and Jacob.
“Saying to Abraham.” To him were the promises first made. He was the Father of the faithful. “Thy seed,” posterity. This is applied by St. Paul (Galatians 3:15) to our Lord, as it is here by St. Peter.
“Kindreds.” The Greek (πατριαι) those deriving their origin from one common parent, Jews as well as Gentiles. These latter were the spiritual sons of Abraham, no less than the Jews, “blessed,” rendered happy. They should, therefore, by embracing their Messiah, avail themselves of the promises made, which promises, strictly speaking, could not be a Covenant as between God and His creatures. The solemn promises made by God were, however, called a Covenant, to show their firmness and solemnity.
Act 3:26 To you first, God, raising up his Son, hath sent him to bless you: that every one may convert himself from his wickedness.
To you first,” &c. In the order of God’s Providence, the Gospel was to be first preached to the Jews, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47).
“Raising up” does not refer to our Lord’s Resurrection; it only signifies commissioning him, sending him, with authority, as in v. 22.
“That everyone may convert himself,” &c. Here, the prospect of pardon and forgiveness is held out to them, which they may obtain by penance and conversion to God. The Apostle wishes to convey to them, that now, the Messiah having come, they, as well as all the other “kindreds” of the earth, by being converted to Him, may look for happiness, and the pardon of all their sins.