Yet breathing out - Not satisfied with what he had done, Acts 8:3. The word breathing out is expressive often of any deep, agitating emotion, as we then breathe rapidly and violently. It is thus expressive of violent anger. The emotion is absorbing, agitating, exhausting, and demands a more rapid circulation of blood to supply the exhausted vitality; and this demands an increased supply of oxygen, or vital air, which leads to the increased action of the lungs. The word is often used in this sense in the Classics (Schleusner). It is a favorite expression with Homer. Euripides has the same expression: “Breathing out fire and slaughter.” So Theocritus: “They came unto the assembly breathing mutual slaughter” (Idyll. 22:82).
Threatening - Denunciation; threatening them with every breath the action of a man violently enraged, and who was bent on vengeance. It denotes also “intense activity and energy in persecution.”
Slaughter - Murder. Intensely desiring to put to death as many Christians as possible. He rejoiced in their death, and joined in condemning them, Acts 26:10-11. From this latter place it seems that he had been concerned in putting many of them to death.
The disciples of the Lord - Against Christians.
Went unto the high priest - See the notes on Matthew 2:4. The letters were written and signed in the name and by the authority of the Sanhedrin, or written and signed in the name and by the authority of the Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the nation. The high priest did it as president of that council. See Acts 9:14, and Acts 22:5. The high priest at that time was Theophilus, son of Ananus, who had been appointed at the feast of Pentecost, 37 a.d., by Vitellius, the Roman governor. His brother Jonathan had been removed from that office the same year (Kuinoel).
Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter - The original text is very emphatic, ετι εμπνεων απειλης και φονου, and points out how determinate Saul was to pursue and accomplish his fell purpose of totally destroying the infant Church of Christ. The mode of speech introduced above is very frequent in the Greek writers, who often express any vehement and hostile affection of the mind by the verb πνεειν, to breathe, to pant; so Theocritus, Idyll. xxii. ver. 82:
Ες μεσσον συναγον, φονον αλλαλοισι πνεοντες.
They came into the assembly, breathing mutual slaughter.
Euripides has the same form, πυρ πνεουσα και φονον, breathing out fire, and slaughter, Iphig. in Taur.
And Aristophanes more fully, referring to all the preparations for war: -
Αλλα πνεοντας δορυ και λογχας και λευκολοφους τρυφαλειας,
Και πηληκας, και κνημιδας, και θυμους ἑπταβοειους .
They breathed spears, and pikes, and helmets, and crests, and greaves, and the fury of redoubted heroes.
The figure is a favourite one with Homer: hence μενεα πνειοντες Αβαντες, the Abantes breathing strength. - Il. ii. 536. And how frequently he speaks of his fierce countrymen as, μενεα πνειοντες Αχαιοι, the Greeks breathing strength, see Il. iii. 8; xi. 508; xxiv. 364, which phrase an old Scholiast interprets, being filled with strength and fury. St. Luke, who was master of the Greek tongue, chose such terms as best expressed a heart desperately and incessantly bent on accomplishing the destruction of the objects of its resentment. Such at this time was the heart of Saul of Tarsus; and it had already given full proof of its malignity, not only in the martyrdom of Stephen, but also in making havoc of the Church, and in forcibly entering every house, and dragging men and women, whom he suspected of Christianity, and committing them to prison. See Acts 8:3.
Went unto the high priest - As the high priest was chief in all matters of an ecclesiastical nature, and the present business was pretendedly religious, he was the proper person to apply to for letters by which this virulent persecutor might be accredited. The letters must necessarily be granted in the name of the whole Sanhedrin, of which Gamaliel, Saul's master, was at that time the head; but the high priest was the proper organ through whom this business might be negotiated.
This chapter is based on Acts 9:1-18.
Prominent among the Jewish leaders who became thoroughly aroused by the success attending the proclamation of the gospel, was Saul of Tarsus. A Roman citizen by birth, Saul was nevertheless a Jew by descent and had been educated in Jerusalem by the most eminent of the rabbis. “Of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,” Saul was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:5, 6. He was regarded by the rabbis as a young man of great promise, and high hopes were cherished concerning him as an able and zealous defender of the ancient faith. His elevation to membership in the Sanhedrin council placed him in a position of power. AA 112.1Read in context »
Paul told the Thessalonian Jews of his former zeal for the ceremonial law and of his wonderful experience at the gate of Damascus. Before his conversion he had been confident in a hereditary piety, a false hope. His faith had not been anchored in Christ; he had trusted instead in forms and ceremonies. His zeal for the law had been disconnected from faith in Christ and was of no avail. While boasting that he was blameless in the performance of the deeds of the law, he had refused the One who made the law of value. AA 228.1
But at the time of his conversion all had been changed. Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had been persecuting in the person of His saints, appeared before him as the promised Messiah. The persecutor saw Him as the Son of God, the one who had come to the earth in fulfillment of the prophecies and who in His life had met every specification of the Sacred Writings. AA 228.2
As with holy boldness Paul proclaimed the gospel in the synagogue at Thessalonica, a flood of light was thrown upon the true meaning of the rites and ceremonies connected with the tabernacle service. He carried the minds of his hearers beyond the earthly service and the ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, to the time when, having completed His mediatorial work, Christ would come again in power and great glory, and establish His kingdom on the earth. Paul was a believer in the second coming of Christ; so clearly and forcibly did he present the truths concerning this event, that upon the minds of many who heard there was made an impression which never wore away. AA 228.3Read in context »
Our Saviour follows His lessons of instruction with a promise that if two or three should be united in asking anything of God it should be given them. Christ here shows that there must be union with others, even in our desires for a given object. Great importance is attached to the united prayer, the union of purpose. God hears the prayers of individuals, but on this occasion Jesus was giving especial and important lessons that were to have a special bearing upon His newly organized church on the earth. There must be an agreement in the things which they desire and for which they pray. It was not merely the thoughts and exercises of one mind, liable to deception; but the petition was to be the earnest desire of several minds centered on the same point. 3T 429.1
In the wonderful conversion of Paul we see the miraculous power of God. A brightness above the glory of the midday sun shone round about him. Jesus, whose name of all others he most hated and despised, revealed Himself to Paul for the purpose of arresting his mad yet honest career, that He might make this most unpromising instrument a chosen vessel to bear the gospel to the Gentiles. He had conscientiously done many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. In his zeal he was a persevering, earnest persecutor of the church of Christ. His convictions of his duty to exterminate this alarming doctrine, which was prevailing everywhere, that Jesus was the Prince of life were deep and strong. 3T 429.2
Paul verily believed that faith in Jesus made of none effect the law of God, the religious service of sacrificial offerings, and the rite of circumcision, which had in all past ages received the full sanction of God. But the miraculous revelation of Christ brings light into the darkened chambers of his mind. The Jesus of Nazareth whom he is arrayed against is indeed the Redeemer of the world. 3T 429.3Read in context »
This chapter is based on Acts 9:1-22.
The mind of Saul was greatly stirred by the triumphant death of Stephen. He was shaken in his prejudice; but the opinions and arguments of the priests and rulers finally convinced him that Stephen was a blasphemer; that Jesus Christ whom he preached was an imposter, and that those ministering in holy offices must be right. Being a man of decided mind and strong purpose, he became very bitter in his opposition to Christianity, after having once entirely settled in his mind that the views of the priests and scribes were right. His zeal led him to voluntarily engage in persecuting the believers. He caused holy men to be dragged before the councils, and to be imprisoned or condemned to death without evidence of any offense, save their faith in Jesus. Of a similar character, though in a different direction, was the zeal of James and John when they would have called down fire from heaven to consume those who slighted and scorned their Master. SR 268.1Read in context »