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Acts 9:31

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Then had the Churches rest - Instead of ἱα εκκλησιαι, the Churches, ABC, several others, the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate, have ἡεκκλησια, the Church. Every assembly of God's people was a Church; the aggregate of these assemblies was The Church. The wordειρηνην, which we translate rest, and which literally signifies peace, evidently means, in this place, prosperity; and in this sense both it and the Hebrew שלום shalom are repeatedly used. But what was the cause of this rest or success? Some say, the conversion of Saul, who before made havoc of the Church; but this is not likely, as he could not be a universal cause of persecution and distress, however active and virulent he might have been during the time of his enmity to the Christian Church. Besides his own persecution, related above, shows that the opposition to the Gospel continued with considerable virulence three years after his conversion; therefore it was not Saul's ceasing to be a persecutor that gave this rest to the Churches. Dr. Lardner, with a greater show of probability, maintains that this rest was owing to the following circumstance: Soon after Caligula's accession to the imperial dignity, the Jews at Alexandria suffered very much from the Egyptians in that city; and at length their oratories were all destroyed. In the third year of Caligula, a.d. 39, Petronius, who was made president of Syria in the place of Vitellius, was sent by the emperor to set up his statue in the temple at Jerusalem. This was a thunder-stroke to the Jews, and so occupied them that they had no time to think of any thing else; apprehending that their temple must be defiled, and the national religion destroyed, or themselves run the risk of being exterminated if they rebelled against the imperial decree.

The account given by Josephus will set this in a clear point of view. "Caligula sent Petronius to go with an army to Jerusalem, to set up his statues in the temple, enjoining him if the Jews opposed it, to put to death all that made resistance, and to make all the rest of the nation slaves. Petronius therefore marched from Antioch into Judea, with three legions, and a large body of auxiliaries raised in Syria. All were hereupon filled with consternation, the army being come as far as Ptolemais. The Jews, then, gathering together, went to the plain near Ptolemais, and entreated Petronius in the first place for their laws, in the next place for themselves. Petronius was moved with their solicitations, and, leaving his army and the statues, went into Galilee, and called an assembly of the heads of the Jews at Tiberias; and, having exhorted them without effect to submit to the emperor's orders, said, 'Will ye then fight against Caesar?' They answered that they offered up sacrifices twice every day for the emperor and the Roman people; but that if he would set up the images, he ought first of all to sacrifice the whole Jewish nation; and that they were ready to submit themselves, their wives and children, to the slaughter." Philo gives a similar account of this transaction. See Lardner's Credibility, Works, vol. i. p. 97, etc.

It appears, therefore, that, as these transactions took place about the time mentioned in the text, their persecution from the Romans diverted them from persecuting the Christians; and Then had the Churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee, and Samaria; the terror occasioned by the imperial decree having spread itself through all those places.

Were edified - Οικοδομουμεναι, A metaphor taken from a building.

  1. The ground is marked out;
  • the ichnograph, or dimensions of the building, ascertained;
  • the foundation is digged;
  • the foundation stone laid;
  • the walls builded up with course upon course;
  • the top-stone brought on;
  • the roof raised, and the whole covered in; and,
  • the interior part fitted up and adorned, and rendered convenient for the intended inhabitant.
  • This figure frequently occurs in the sacred writings, especially in the New Testament. It has its reason in the original creation of man: God made the first human being as a shrine or temple, in which himself might dwell. Sin entered, and the heavenly building was destroyed. The materials, however, though all dislocated, and covered with rubbish and every way defiled, yet exist; no essential power or faculty of the soul having been lost. The work of redemption consists in building up this house as it was in the beginning, and rendering it a proper habitation for God. The various powers, faculties, and passions, are all to be purified and refined by the power of the Holy Spirit, and order and harmony restored to the whole soul. All this is beautifully pointed out by St. Peter, 1 Peter 2:4, 1 Peter 2:5; : To whom (Jesus Christ) coming as unto a Living Stone, chosen of God and precious, ye also, as Living Stones, are Built Up a spiritual House, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God by Jesus Christ. And St. Paul, who, from his own profession as a tent-maker, could best seize on the metaphor, and press it into this spiritual service, goes through the whole figure at large, in the following inimitable words: Ye are the Household of God, and are Built upon the Foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone, in whom all the Building, Fitly Framed together, groweth unto a Holy Temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are Builded together for a Habitation of God, through the Spirit, Ephesians 2:19-22. Edification signifies, therefore, an increase in the light, life, and power of God; being founded on the doctrine of Christ crucified; having the soul purified from all unrighteousness, and fitted, by increasing holiness, to be a permanent residence for the ever-blessed God.

    Walking in the fear of the Lord - Keeping a continually tender conscience; abhorring all sin; having respect to every Divine precept; dreading to offend him from whom the soul has derived its being and its blessings. Without this salutary fear of God there never can be any circumspect walking.

    In the comfort of the Holy Ghost - In a consciousness of their acceptance and union with God, through his Spirit, by which solid peace and happiness are brought into the soul; the truly religious man knowing and feeling that he is of God, by the Spirit which is given him: nothing less can be implied in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.

    Were multiplied - No wonder that the Church of God increased, when such lights as these shone among men. This is a short, but full and forcible description of the righteousness, purity, and happiness of the primitive Church.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    Then had the churches rest - That is, the persecutions against Christians ceased. Those persecutions had been excited by the opposition made to Stephen Acts 11:19; they had been greatly promoted by Saul Acts 8:3; and they had extended doubtless throughout the whole land of Palestine. The precise causes of this cessation of the persecution are not known. Probably they were the following:

    (1) It is not improbable that the great mass of Christians had been driven into other regions by these persecutions.

    (2) he who had been most active in exciting the persecution; who was, in a sort, its leader, and who was best adapted to carry it on, had been converted. He had ceased his opposition; and even he was now removed from Judea. All this would have some effect in causing the persecution to subside.

    (3) but it is not improbable that the state of things in Judea contributed much to turn the attention of the Jews to other matters. Dr. Lardner accounts for this in the following manner: “Soon after Caligula‘s accession, the Jews at Alexandria suffered very much from the Egyptians in that city, and at length their oratories there were all destroyed. In the third year of Caligula, 39 a.d., Petronius was sent into Syria, with orders to set up the emperor‘s statue in the temple at Jerusalem. This order from Caligula was, to the Jews, a thunderstroke. The Jews must have been too much engaged after this to mind anything else, as may appear from the accounts which Philo and Josephus have given us of this affair. Josephus says ‹that Caligula ordered Petronius to go with an army to Jerusalem, to set up his statue in the temple there; enjoining him, if the Jews opposed it, to put to death all who made any resistance, and to make all the rest of the nation slaves. Petronius therefore marched from Antioch into Judea with three legions and a large body of auxiliaries raised in Syria. “All were hereupon filled with consternation, the army being come as far as Ptolemais.” See Lardner‘s Works, vol. i, pp. 101,102, London edition, 1829.

    Philo gives the same account of the consternation as Josephus (Philo, DeLegat. a.d. Cai., pp. 1024,1025). He describes the Jews “as abandoning their cities, villages, and open country; as going to Petronius in Phoenicia, both men and women, the old, the young, the middle-aged; as throwing themselves on the ground before Petronius with weeping and lamentation,” etc. The effect of this consternation in diverting their minds from the Christians can be easily conceived. The prospect that the images of the Roman emperor were about to be set up by violence in the temple, or, that in case of resistance, death or slavery was to be their portion, and the advance of a large army to execute that purpose, all tended to throw the nation into alarm. By the providence of God, therefore, this event was permitted to occur to divert the attention of bloody-minded persecutors from a feeble and bleeding church. Anxious for their own safety, the Jews would cease to persecute the Christians, and thus, by the conversion of the main instrument in persecution, and by the universal alarm for the welfare of the nation, the trembling and enfeebled church was permitted to obtain repose. Thus ended the first general persecution against Christians, and thus effectually did God show that he had power to guard and protect his chosen people.

    All Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria - These three places included the land of Palestine. See the notes on Matthew 2:22. The formation of churches in Galilee is not expressly mentioned before this; but there is no improbability in supposing that Christians had traveled there, and had preached the gospel. Compare Acts 11:19. The formation of churches in Samaria is expressly mentioned, Romans 14:19; Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 8:1.

    And walking - Living. The word is often used to denote “Christian conduct, or manner of life,” Colossians 1:10; Luke 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 John 2:6. The idea is that of travelers who are going to any place, and who walk in the right path. Christians are thus travelers to another country, an heavenly.

    In the fear of the Lord - Fearing the Lord; with reverence for him and his commandments. This expression is often used to denote “piety” in general, 2 Chronicles 19:7; Job 28:28; Psalm 19:9; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 13:13.

    In the comfort of the Holy Ghost - In the consolations which the Holy Spirit produced, John 14:16-17; Romans 5:1-5.

    Were multiplied - Were increased.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    When we enter into the way of God, we must look for trials; but the Lord knows how to deliver the godly, and will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape. Though Saul's conversion was and is a proof of the truth of Christianity, yet it could not, of itself, convert one soul at enmity with the truth; for nothing can produce true faith, but that power which new-creates the heart. Believers are apt to be too suspicious of those against whom they have prejudices. The world is full of deceit, and it is necessary to be cautious, but we must exercise charity, 1Co 13:5. The Lord will clear up the characters of true believers; and he will bring them to his people, and often gives them opportunities of bearing testimony to his truth, before those who once witnessed their hatred to it. Christ now appeared to Saul, and ordered him to go quickly out of Jerusalem, for he must be sent to the Gentiles: see ch. 22:21. Christ's witnesses cannot be slain till they have finished their testimony. The persecutions were stayed. The professors of the gospel walked uprightly, and enjoyed much comfort from the Holy Ghost, in the hope and peace of the gospel, and others were won over to them. They lived upon the comfort of the Holy Ghost, not only in the days of trouble and affliction, but in days of rest and prosperity. Those are most likely to walk cheerfully, who walk circumspectly.
    Ellen G. White
    The Retirement Years, 73.1

    I greatly desire that you shall have a trustful mind, that you shall not depend upon your past confidence in God, but have a present, fresh faith, and maintain your confidence without wavering. Your soul must daily be warmed and invigorated by the truth of the gospel, and you refreshed by a daily living and new experience. I want you to have comfort and hope and joy in the Holy Ghost. Never, never feel the slightest disturbance because the Lord is raising up youth to lift and carry the heavier burdens and proclaim the message of truth.—Letter 14, 1891. RY 73.1

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    Ellen G. White
    The Acts of the Apostles, 123-30

    This chapter is based on Acts 9:19-30.

    After his baptism, Paul broke his fast and remained “certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” Boldly he declared Jesus of Nazareth to be the long-looked-for Messiah, who “died for our sins according to the Scriptures; ... was buried, and ... rose again the third day,” after which He was seen by the Twelve and by others. “And last of all,” Paul added, “He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, 8. His arguments from prophecy were so conclusive, and his efforts were so manifestly attended by the power of God, that the Jews were confounded and unable to answer him. AA 123.1

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    Ellen G. White
    SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (EGW), 1058-9

    3-6. See EGW on 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. 6BC 1058.1

    3-9. Made Blind That He Might See—What a humiliation it was to Paul to know that all the time he was using his powers against the truth, thinking he was doing God's service, he was persecuting Christ. When the Saviour revealed Himself to Paul in the bright beams of His glory, he was filled with abhorrence for his work and for himself. The power of Christ's glory might have destroyed him, but Paul was a prisoner of hope. He was made physically blind by the glory of the presence of Him whom he had blasphemed, but it was that he might have spiritual sight, that he might be awakened from the lethargy that had stupefied and deadened his perceptions. His conscience, aroused, now worked with self-accusing energy. The zeal of his work, his earnest resistance of the light shining upon him through God's messengers, now brought condemnation upon his soul, and he was filled with bitter remorse. He no longer saw himself as righteous, but condemned by the law in thought, in spirit, and in deeds. He saw himself a sinner, utterly lost, without the Saviour he had been persecuting. In the days and nights of his blindness he had time for reflection, and he cast himself all helpless and hopeless upon Christ, the only one who could pardon him and clothe him with righteousness (Manuscript 23, 1899). 6BC 1058.2

    6. Divine and Human Cooperation Necessary—Always the Lord gives the human agent his work. Here is the divine and the human cooperation. There is man working in obedience to divine light given. If Saul had said, Lord, I am not at all inclined to follow your specified directions to work out my own salvation, then should the Lord have let ten times the light shine upon Saul, it would have been useless. It is man's work to cooperate with the divine. And it is the very hardest, sternest conflict which comes with the purpose and hour of great resolve and decision of the human to incline the will and way to God's will and God's way.... The character will determine the nature of the resolve and the action. The doing is not in accordance with the feeling or the inclination, but with the known will of our Father which is in heaven. Follow and obey the leadings of the Holy Spirit (Letter 135, 1898). 6BC 1058.3

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    Ellen G. White
    The Story of Redemption, 276-80

    This chapter is based on Acts 9:23-31 and 22:17-21.

    Paul now returned to Damascus and preached boldly in the name of Jesus. The Jews could not withstand the wisdom of his arguments, and they therefore counseled together to silence his voice by force—the only argument left to a sinking cause. They decided to assassinate him. The apostle was made acquainted with their purpose. The gates of the city were vigilantly guarded, day and night, to cut off his escape. The anxiety of the disciples drew them to God in prayer; there was little sleeping among them, as they were busy in devising ways and means for the escape of the chosen apostle. Finally they conceived a plan by which he was let down from a window and lowered over the wall in a basket at night. In this humiliating manner Paul made his escape from Damascus. SR 276.1

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