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 13:13-25

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 1, 2017

13 Now when Paul and they that were with him had sailed from Paphos, they came to Perge in Pamphylia. And John departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.

“Paul,” &c., and his colleagues. “Perge,” the capital of Pamphylia, distinguished for the famous temple of Diana. Whatever John’s reasons were for not accompanying them beyond Perge, they did not satisfy Paul, who refused afterwards to have him associated with them. This gave rise to the difference between the Apostle and Barnabas, the latter was kinsman of John Mark. This difference ended in their separation. John, it seems, was afterwards taken into the Apostle’s friendship (2 Tim. 4:11; Col. 4:10.)

14 But they, passing through Perge, came to Antioch in Pisidia: and, entering into the Synagogue on the sabbath day, they sat down.

They made no slay this time, at Perge. Not so, however, on their return (14:25).

“Antioch of Pisidia.” Different from the well-known Antioch of Syria (11:19).

“Entering into the Synagogue.” There must have been a good many Jews there.

“Sat down.” Assuming the position of Doctors, and conveying that they would be glad to address the congregation. Although specially marked out by the Holy Ghost himself for the conversion of the Gentile world, they deemed it right to attend to the Divine mandate of preaching to the Jews, first, “Judæo primum.”

15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying: Ye men, brethren, if you have any word of exhortation to make to the people, speak.

“And after the reading,” &c. A portion of the Pentateuch—“the Law”—was marked off to be read for the assembly, each Sabbath day, in the synagogue. To this was added an appropriate passage from “the Prophets,” bearing in sense on the passage read from the Law, or Pentateuch.

“The rulers of the Synagogue.” The officers, whose duty it was to see that all things were conducted decorously at the meeting. To them it belonged to call on whom they pleased to address the people. “If ye have any word,” &c. Their position and intelligent appearance gave grounds for assuming this.

“Men, brethren.” Showed they have regarded them as fellow-country-men and of the same religion

16 Then Paul rising up and with his hand bespeaking silence, said: Ye men of Israel and you that fear God, give ear.

“And you that fear God.” By those are most probably meant the class termed, Proselytes of the gate, who had not been as yet incorporated with the Jews, by circumcision; but, having renounced the worship of idols, adored Jehovah, and were admitted to the Synagogues. There was another class of Proselytes, viz., Proselytes of justice. This latter class were incorporated with the Jews by circumcision. They were bound to the observance of the entire Mosaic Law. Not so, the Proselytes of the gate, who were bound only by the precepts given to Noah.

17 The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers and exalted the people when they were sojourners in the land of Egypt: And with an high arm brought them out from thence:

This is the first discourse recorded by St. Luke in the Acts, as uttered by St. Paul. Every word of it is thoroughly in harmony with his writings in his Epistles. Between it and the discourse of St. Peter and St. Stephen addressed to the Jews, who had not at the time, embraced the Faith, the greatest analogy is clearly discernible. St. Paul seems to adopt the same course that they followed in order to bring around their conversion. In this disourse, instead of proclaiming at once the Divinity of our Lord and the necessity of believing in Him, which might occasion a cry of opposition against Him, he gives a brief account of the History of the Jews, their special election by God, till he comes down to the time of King David, from whose seed our Saviour had sprung. Then briefly alluding to His Death and Resurrection—all in accordance with the ancient prophecies—he points out what he intended to be the main object of his discourse, viz.: the necessity of believing in Him, in order to obtain Salvation (38, 39). He also warns them against the disastrous consequences of unbelief (vv. 40, 41).

“The God,” &c. This exordium was calculated to secure him an attentive hearing.

“Exalted the people.” By multiplying them, asserting them into liberty from a state of degrading bondage, working great prodigies of power in their behalf, humbling their enemies

“And with a high arm,” &c. All this is fully detailed in the Book of Exodus.

18 And for the space of forty years endured their manners in the desert:

“Endured their manners,” &c. Patiently bearing with their perversity and frequent rebellions against him (Psalm 94:10).

The above is the reading commonly adopted. Others—and they are neither few nor inconsiderable—adopt a different reading. They maintain that instead of ετροποφορησενEndured,” it should be ετροφοφορησεν nourished, fed, as a nurse feeds her young. This latter reading is found in several excellent MSS. and versions. There is only the difference of one letter φ and π in both. If we consult history it is against the former reading, as it testifies that God did not patiently endure their perversity; but, rather frequently reproached, threatened, and punished them severely. Moreover, does it not seem unlikely that St. Paul in recounting the benefits bestowed on their fathers, would mention their perversity, which God had patiently to bear with? More likely, he would refer to their having been miraculously nourished by God, with Manna in their passage, for forty years, through the wilderness.

19 And, destroying seven nations in the land of Chaanan, divided their land among them by lot.

“Destroying” them, as nations (Deut. 7:1), extirpating them as such, several individuals survived.

“Land of Chanaan.” The whole country went by the name of the principal nation. This is the land promised their fathers.

“By lot,” a process frequently resorted to among the Jews, for determining the most important affairs.

20 As it were, after four hundred and fifty years. And after these things, he gave unto them judges, until Samuel the prophet.

“As it were,” &c. We have great chronological difficulties connected with this verse. There are two readings of it, both well supported by MSS. and versions. One, the ordinary Greek reading, according to which “the four hundred and fifty years” are to be connected with what follows, and determine the period or duration of the government of the people by judges.

“After these things,” or after the sortition of the lands, some time subsequent to the entrance into the Land of Promise, He gave them judges who ruled for “four hundred and fifty years until Samuel the Prophet,” Samuel’s own administration included. This is not easily reconciled with 3 Kings, c. 6:1, where it is stated four hundred and eighty years (480) elapsed between the Exodus and the fourth (4th) year of the reign of Solomon, the date of the building of the Temple.

The other reading followed by the Vulgate, and supported by some of the chief MSS. and versions connects the “four hundred and fifty (450) years” not with what follows, but with the preceding, and computes them from the call and special election of the Jewish people, which began at the birth of Isaac, the heir of the promises, to the sortition of the lands in Chanaan. In this reading there is no need for reconciling this passage with 3 Kings 6:6, which speaks of a period commencing with the Exodus.

The passage will, then, mean that God gave the children of Israel the land of Chanaan four hundred and fifty (450) years after He had chosen our fathers and their posterity to be His peculiar people.

In this computation, the forty (40) years wandering in the desert, and seven (7) years before the distribution of the land are added to the four hundred (400) from the time of the promise till the Exodus or end of their bondage.

Commentators generally remark in connection with this and such like passages that Chronological details regarding facts, long since past, are very perplexing. They, moreover, remark that the Chronology here mentioned was commonly held at the time; and that St. Paul, without entering into any disputes about Chronological accuracy or attempting to settle every point regarding it, gave expression to the opinion on the subject usually adopted by the Jews at the time.

21 And after that they desired a king: and God gave them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, forty years.

“Forty years.” In Book of Kings, there is no mention of the duration of Saul’s reign.

The Apostle must have learned it from Tradition. This number perfectly accords with the narrative of Josephus (Antiq. vii. 11) who says Saul reigned eighteen (18) years before the death of Samuel, and twenty-two after it.

22 And when he had removed him, he raised them up David to be king: to whom giving testimony, he said: I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man according to my own heart, who shall do all my wills.

“Removed.” Deprived him of the Royal dignity (1 Kings 31:1–6).

“Giving testimony”—“according to my own heart,” very pleasing to me, such a man as my heart desires and wishes for. “My wills execute my mandates.” This testimony is found substantially in (1 Kings 13:14, 16:1; Psl 38). David may have deflected from the right path betimes; but, his public kingly life was uniformly good; and, after he fell, his repentance was remarkable. His reign, as king, was good, obedient to God’s will, unlike Saul, who proved to be perverse.

David is commended for having promoted the worship of God among the people (3 Kings 14:8, 9; 15:3–5) and contrasted with Jeroboam and Abias.

23 Of this man’s seed, God, according to his promise, hath raised up to Israel a Saviour Jesus:

“Seed,” posterity. Our Lord is everywhere known by the designation, “Son of David.”

“God, according to His promise,” viz., the promises generally made to Abraham and David, that the Messiah would be born of their seed (Gal. 3:15) which he confirms in v. 32.

“Hath raised up to Israel, a Saviour, Jesus.” Instead of “raised up,” the reading best supported by a preponderance of MSS., and generally preferred, has, “brought forth to Israel.” It refers not to our Lord’s Incarnation; but, to his having been publicly declared by God, at the commencement of his ministry, at his Baptism, by John, to be the Saviour of all Israel. Hence, aptly called Jesus. The reference here made to the precursory ministry and testimony of John shows there is question of our Lord’s coming forth to exercise His ministry.

24 John first preaching, before his coming, the baptism of penance to all the people of Israel.

“John preaching,” or, as the Greek has it, “having previously preached,” “before his coming,” or His public appearance to exercise His ministry.

In v. 23, the Apostle introduces the chief point of his discourse, that Jesus was the promised Messiah, who was to redeem the world. The mention of the word Jesus, so odious to the Jews, and calculated to beget a prejudice, is introduced with great judgment, the promises regarding which, already laid before them, the Jews could not gainsay. With great tact he avails himself of the allusion to David to introduce the mention of the Messiah, who was to be of the seed of David.

The meaning of vv. 23, 24, then, is: God, conformably to His promise has declared, pointed out unto Israel Jesus as Saviour, the descendant of King David, after John had prepared the ways for His entry into the functions of His ministry, by preaching the Baptism of Penance unto all the people.

25 And when John was fulfilling his course, he said: I am not he whom you think me to be. But behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.

“Fulfilling his course.” When in the act of discharging his duties as precursor, he said “I am not he,” (see Gospels Matthew 3; Luke 3:15; John 1:27).

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