Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 9:1-20
Posted by Dim Bulb on April 10, 2016
AN ANALYSIS OF ACTS CHAPTER 9
The Chapter commences with the wonderful and miraculous conversion of Saul on his way to persecute the Christians of Damascus, which was perfected by the instructions of Ananias, whose fears occasioned by the persecuting character of Saul were dissipated by Divine assurances on the subject (1–18). The zeal of Saul in preaching the Gospel, the conspiracy on the part of the Jews to kill him (19–25), His escape (25). The distrust of the faithful of Jerusalem regarding him on account of his repute, as Persecutor, quieted by the intervention of Barnabas, who introduced him to the Apostles (26, 27). The machinations of the Gentiles to kill him. Hence his escape to Tharsus (29, 30). The miracles wrought by Peter in the restoration to health of Eneas (32–35). The wonderful miracle wrought by him in raising Tabitha or Dorcas from the dead, which caused the conversion of many (36–43).
Act 9:1 And Saul, as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
“And Saul,” who had already rendered himself prominently conspicuous in the persecution of the Christians, was now “as yet,” in the interval between the present time and the death of Stephen, indulging still, his passion for persecution, shown in the murder of Stephen.
“Breathing out.” Furiously agitated, displaying a violent thirst for vengeance. “Threatenings,” all kinds of threatening and denunciatory language. “And slaughter,” designs of wholesale murder “against the disciples of our Lord,” the converted believers. He had a hand in putting to death a great number of Christians (Acts 26:10, 11).
“Went to the High Priest,”
Act 9:2 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.
“And asked of him letters,” &c. The letters were written by the authority of the Sanhedrim and signed by the High Priest, as president of the Council. Some say the conversion of St. Paul took place in the thirty-fifth year of our era, three years after our Lord’s death. In that case the High Priest was Caiphas, who was deposed by Tertullus.
If it occurred later, the High Priest was Theophilus. To the Sanhedrim, belonged to take cognizance of offences against religion. The Romans connived at their doing this beyond the precincts of Judea, wherever synagogues were found, dependent on the Sanhedrim.
“Asked.” He himself volunteered to act as persecutor; “Letters,” credentials conveying a commission or authorization. “To Damascus” a celebrated well-known city of Asia, mentioned in Scripture city, in the days of Abraham (Genisis 15:2). After various vicissitudes, it was ultimately taken by Selim, A. D. 1517. Ever since, it has been subject to the Saracens.
It was well-known to Saul, that a large number of Christians had been at Damascus, and the credential letters gave him the power vested in the Sanhedrim to punish all offences against religion. The policy of the Romans was to leave the exercise of such power to the Sanhedrim, reserving for themselves the confirmation of the sentence of death.
“To the Synagogues.” Over whom the Sanhedrim exercised authority.
“Men and women,” even “women,” were not spared, which shows intense hatred.
“Of this way,” of thinking and believing; of this sect.
“Bring them bound,” for trial before the Sanhedrim, whose powers in matters pertaining to religion, the Romans sanctioned or connived at, save in the supreme case of death, specially reserved for themselves.
Act 9:3 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.
“While travelling along the road, and when he was near Damascus—how near, no one can tell—the important event here mentioned, took place.
“Suddenly.” With the suddenness of a flash of lightning. It was not, however, a flash of lightning. It was the transcendent, overwhelming, dazzling glory, surrounding our Lord Himself, as at his Transfiguration (John 17:5). It was our Lord Himself, personally appearing to St. Paul in His glory, which Paul recognized, calling Him “Lord” (v. 5). For Barnabas declared “how he had seen the Lord in the way (v. 27). He himself says (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:8), that he saw our Lord. Similar is the language (1 Cor. 9:1). He now sees resuscitated, living, glorious, our Lord, whom he supposed to be dead.
“A light from heaven,” from the sky, “above the brightness of the sun (26:13).
“About him,” and his companions also (26:13).
Act 9:4 And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Overpowered by the dazzling light, he fell to the ground, and so did those who were with him, overawed by the majesty of what they saw (26:14). It is not opposed to this, that “they stood amazed” (v. 7), for they might have soon risen to their feet.
“He heard a voice, Saul, Saul.” The word is repeated for emphasis sake.
“Why,”—for what reason, on account of what provocation? “persecutest thou me,” viz., in his chosen members. He was head of the body whose members Saul was engaged in furiously and relentlessly persecuting.
Act 9:5 Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.
“Lord” does not imply Divinity. It is only a term of courteous reverence elicited by the terror he was in. Up to this, Saul did not for certain acknowledge Jesus Christ to be God. Similar is the meaning of Magdalen’s words, when she thought she was addressing the gardener (John 20:15).
“I am Jesus,” &c. In chap. 22:8, it is “I am Jesus of Nazareth,” in which is conveyed that the humble Nazarene, whom Paul despised, as if nothing good could come out of Nazareth, is now Lord of all. He now appears to him in glory.
“It is hard for thee to kick,” &c. A proverbial expression with the Greeks and Romans, conveying that obstinate and stubborn resistance to lawful authority and rebellion against those who have a right to command is injurious to the man who resists. The idea is borrowed from stubborn oxen kicking against the “goad,” or sharp piece of iron used to urge them on. By kicking, they injure themselves. This according to the conjecture of some, denotes the resistance Paul had been giving before our Lord appeared to him, to the interior emotions of grace urging him to desist from the persecution he was practising. The example and admonition of his former teacher, Gamaliel (22:3) who embraced the faith, may have served to disquiet him and cause some remorse of conscience.
Act 9:6 And he, trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?
What he saw and heard created a feeling of terror and alarm on reflecting on the wicked course he had been pursuing.
“Lord.” The term here denotes the supreme reverence due to Him as God and Saviour. “What wilt thou,” &c., shows his thorough conversion and prompt change of heart. Giving up his own wicked will and feeling of opposition to God, he now professes at once his willingness to embrace in all things God’s Adorable Will.
Act 9:7 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.
“And there it shall be told thee,” &c. In this we see the wonderful and mysterious ways of God’s Providence in carrying out his designs. He might himself have instructed him on the spot. But, no; it pleased Him to employ the ministry of an humble disciple at Damascus for perfecting His beneficent designs. In this He had also in view to test Paul’s humility, obedience and self abnegation.
“The men.… stood amazed.” The Greek word for amazed (εννεοι) means struck dumb, unable to speak. They were struck mute with terror. It may be, when the first feeling of alarm which prostrated them (26:14) subsided, they stood up immediately, while Paul, who was chiefly concerned in the matter, continued prostrate. In c. 26:14, it is said they were “all fallen on the ground.” This occurred, as the immediate effect of the light, before they heard the voice. Here we have an account of what took place after the first feeling of panic and alarm was over. They stood up immediately. It may be, the word, “stood,” has no particular meaning; that it merely denotes the feeling of alarm they felt, without reference to what position they were in, whether standing or prostrate.
“Hearing, indeed, a voice,” probably means hearing a sound, but not understanding the articulate utterance and meaning as it was understood by Saul.
Act 9:8 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.
“And when his eyes were opened.” The Greek would be more properly rendered, and although his eyes opened, “or with eyes opened.” For while prostrate, his eyes were opened, looking at our Lord in His glorious appearance. But, when he rose up, on account of the dazzling, intense brightness of the light emanating from the glorified body of Jesus, his eyes though opened, were bereft of the faculty of seeing “for three days,” v. 9.
Act 9:9 And he was there three days without sight: and he did neither eat nor drink.
“And he did neither eat,” &c. Terror and remorse, suspense and perplexity, as he received no intimation as to what he was to do, joined with fervent and absorbing prayer for pardon of his sins, for heavenly light to remove his state of perplexity, made him indifferent and unconcerned about all corporal sustenance.
Act 9:10 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.
“A certain disciple,” a Christian, who had already heard of Saul’s violent persecution of his fellow-believers (v. 13). “Ananias,” the term would indicate a Jew by birth converted to the faith.
Act 9:11 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.
“For he prayeth.” Fear him no longer, as a fanatical persecutor of the Christians. He is now a different man, completely changed, engaged in fervent prayer for light, guidance and forgiveness. This would point to the manner Paul spent the three days in question.
Act 9:12 (And he saw a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hands upon him, that he might receive his sight.)
Very likely, the words of this verse are parenthetical, inserted by St. Luke, to inform us that while our Lord was addressing Ananias in a vision, Saul was favoured with another vision, assuring him that Ananias, whose name he gives, was no impostor, and would soon show him, on the part of God, what he was to do. “Quid Te oporteat facere” (v. 7).
Act 9:13 But Ananias answered: Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints in Jerusalem.
In this Ananias expresses his fears and surprise. Probably, Ananias, informed by letters from the faithful of Jerusalem, or by public rumour, or by some Christians who fled on account of the persecution from Jerusalem to Damascus, heard all about Paul’s fanaticism and persecuting violence.
“Thy saints.” The term always applied by the Apostle, in his Epistles, to Christians.
Act 9:14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that invoke thy name.
“And here” in this very city. Likely, the companions of Saul published all about him, and so it reached Ananias.
Act 9:15 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.
“Go thy way.” A brief form of expressing that God will do what is just and reasonable. Here, it is a repetition of God’s instructions to Ananias regarding Saul.
“A vessel of Election.” “Vessel,” according to Hebrew usage, signifies an organ or instrument. “Election,” chosen, like the other Apostles, to carry out My designs of mercy. “Carry My name.” Proclaim My attributes as God and Man, Creator and Redeemer of mankind.
Act 9:16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
“I will shew him,” &c. As a proof that he will be a distinguished instrument to be employed by Me, I will have him suffer much on My account, and hence he will be distinguished in My service. His success will be proportioned to his fortitude and constancy in enduring evils. That he did suffer this is shown from the picture he draws for us (2 Cor. 11) and his subsequent History in these Acts of the Apostles.
Act 9:17 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 camest, that thou mayest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
In obedience to our Lord’s command, Ananias, proceeded to his destination, “and laying his hands upon him.” It was not for the purpose of giving the Sacrament of Confirmation. There is no evidence that Ananias was in a position to do so—moreover, Saul was still unbaptized, and Ananias himself states the object: “that thou mayst receive thy sight,” which he did on the spot, “and be filled with the Holy Ghost,” through the baptism, he was immediately to receive. The imposition of hands restored his sight. Baptism gave him the Holy Ghost.” It may be, that with the effect of baptism, Paul received in an extraordinary way the grace of Confirmation without the eternal rite, as did the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday.
Act 9:18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales: and he received his sight. And rising up, he was baptized.
The teguments that fell from his eyes and impeded his sight were like “scales.” They fell, as if “scales” had fallen, with which fishes and serpents are covered. The cure being so sudden, and, so far as human agency was concerned, without any human adequate cause, shows that it was manifestly miraculous.
“He was baptized.” As there is no mention of having received the necessary previous instruction in the truths of faith, it is most likely our Lord Himself fully instructed him during the three days preceding his baptism. Hence, he says (Gal. 1) he received the Gospel, not from man, but from Jesus Christ.
Act 9:19 And when he had taken meat, he was strengthened. And he was with the disciples that were at Damascus, for some days.
He recovered his natural strength, weakened by previous fasting.
After his communion he proceeded to Arabia, and then again came back to Damascus. St. Luke makes no mention of his journey to Arabia.
Act 9:20 And immediately he preached Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the son of God.
This shows the genuine sincerity of his conversion.