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’s Commentary on Acts 19:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 1, 2016


Coming to Ephesus, the Apostle finding some converts imperfectly instructed in some points of faith, he more fully instructs them, baptizes them, and imposing hands on them, imparts the Holy Ghost (1–7). He continues instructing them for two years, working miracles, casting out devils, which some unauthorized men attempting were overpowered by the demon (8–17). The violent tumult caused by Demetrius the silversmith and his fellow craftsmen (23–34). The intervention of the City Magistrate, warning them of the possible consequences of their disorderly conduct, restored order (35–40).

Act 19:1 And it came to pass, while Apollo was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper coasts, came to Ephesus and found certain disciples.

“Upper coasts,” or regions of Asia. Phrygia and Galatia, situated in a high country, a distance from the Ægean sea. See map here.

“Came to Ephesus,” according to promise (18:21). It was situated in the lower maritime district.

“Certain disciples,” who were baptized into John’s Baptism, and received John’s teaching regarding the near Advent of the Messiah. They like Apollos, had not heard that the Messiah had come, nor anything regarding the Holy Ghost.

Act 19:2 And he said to them: Have you received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? But they said to him: We have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost.

Assuming these disciples to be baptized members of the Church, but doubting if they were confirmed, he now asks them after having believed and consequently having received Baptism, if they had received the Sacrament of Confirmation which was veribly accompanied by the external gifts of the Holy Ghost, such as the gift of tongues, miracles, &c. These twelve men may have been natives of Palestine, at a time when the Faith of Christ was not preached, but only the teaching of John and his Baptism was known. “We have not so much as heard,” &c.

Act 19:3 And he said: In what then were you baptized? Who said: In John’s baptism.

St. Paul then asks, as from their answer it would seem they could not have received the Baptism of Christ in the very form of which the Holy Ghost is expressly mentioned. (The word “then” or therefore implies that there was mention of the Holy Ghost in Christ’s Baptism), what other Baptism did they receive, “in what then,” &c. The Greek is, into what, into whose name, what Faith or doctrine. What Faith did you profess at Baptism?

“In John’s Baptism.” A necessary condition of which was faith in the Messiah now come, John’s preaching had reference, in a special way, to the Messiah and not to the Holy Ghost. Hence the disciples of John not having been instructed in Christian doctrine, knew nothing of the Holy Ghost.

Act 19:4 Then Paul said: John baptized the people with the baptism of penance saying: That they should believe in him, who was to come after him, that is to say, in Jesus.

“With the baptism of penance, which was a symbol of and an incentive to penance for their sins. The Greek construction is different. The word “people” is connected with “saying” thus; John baptized, saying to the people. However, there is but little difference of signification in both constructions.

“Saying they should believe in Him,” &c. From this St. Jerome, St. Thomas, Bonaventure and others infer, that the form used in John’s baptism—if form and not rather their protestation or profession of faith it could be called—was in the words “I baptize thee that thou mayest believe in Him who is to come, that is in Jesus Christ.” These words are hortatory and convey an exhortation and admonition to do penance and have faith in Christ.

The words “who was to come after him,” are a paraphrase for the Messiah or Christ.

Act 19:5 Having heard these things, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Having heard Paul concerning John’s baptism and its effects to which he most likely, added instructions on the principal points of Christian doctrine, including the necessity of Christian baptism and its effects. “Baptized in the name,” &c. Received Christian baptism, as instituted by our Lord Jesus, incorporated with Him, members of His Mystical Body, bearing His Name, and embracing His religion. No doubt, St. Paul in conferring the baptism of Christ, employed the form with the distinct mention of the Trinity presented by our Lord. Indeed, this is implied in the words “in what then were you baptized?”

Act 19:6 And when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them: and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

“Imposed his hands on them” By administering confirmation.

“The Holy Ghost came,” &c., in the visible appearance of fire and tongues. “And they spoke with tongues and prophesied,” either by foretelling future events, or sounding forth the praises of God with great fervour of spirit, making known the hidden things of God (8:15–17).

Act 19:7 And all the men were about twelve.

Fr. MacEvilly doesn’t offer a commentary on this verse. Some scholars see the reference to “twelve” as symbolic of all Israel (i.e., the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel who father the twelve tribes of Israel).

Act 19:8 And entering into the synagogue, he spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing and exhorting concerning the kingdom of God.

“Concerning the Kingdom of God.” Pointing out the economy of Redemption, the means and necessary course to be pursued in order to secure Eternal life.


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