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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – 2015
Theme: Game Changer: How to Impact
What This Study Is About:
The focus for this
week’s study is on the early church’s need to turn to prayer as they
faced opposition to the spread of Christianity.
When Opposition Strikes
can boldly face any opposition because God is in charge.
Place Your Confidence In The Sovereign God (Acts
God For Boldness (Acts 4:29-31)
The Day of Pentecost came with a roar.
The Holy Spirit poured out His power on the apostles who proclaimed
the gospel, speaking in tongues. Then
Peter addressed the Jewish crowd and spoke boldly about the death and
resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah and Son of God.
He declared that everyone should repent and receive forgiveness of
their sins through the work of Christ.
As a result, about 3,000 people were saved that day (Acts 2).
But Satan was not going to sit idly by and watch the
church expand unabated, and the Jewish leaders were his initial instrument
of persecution. After Peter
healed a lame man, he proclaimed the gospel once again and many others
were converted to Christ, the total number of believers in the infant
church now reaching 5,000 (4:4). The
Jewish leaders interrupted this great work by having Peter and John
arrested, and when called upon to give an account of their actions, Peter
proclaimed the gospel once again. The
paradox was amazing: Peter, the one who had denied Jesus three times, was
boldly proclaiming that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus (v.
12)—and he was speaking to the Jewish leaders who had taken a leading
role in having Jesus executed just a few weeks earlier.
After realizing that they couldn’t deny the miracle
and that these uneducated men were basically harmless, the members of the
Sanhedrin decided to release Peter and John with a warning that they had
to stop preaching about Jesus. In
another act of boldness on their part, the apostles refused with a resolve
every follower of Jesus should have: “Whether it’s right in the sight
of God for us to listen to your rather than to God, you decide; for we are
unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (vv. 19-20).
Finally, after threatening Peter and John once again, the Sanhedrin
The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; Nashville, TN.
At one time Christians in
America only knew about opposition to Christianity from what they heard
was happening in other countries. No
longer is that the case. Increasingly,
American culture has allowed—even supported—opposition to Christian
faith. How we respond to such
spiritual opposition says as much about our faith as our beliefs do.
However, opposition to Christianity is nothing new. From
the very beginning the early church experienced opposition from the
leaders of the established religion of the day—Judaism!
The response of the early church provides a model for how we, too,
can stand strong for Christ during those times of persecutions we may be
called upon to endure.
SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary;
Family Bible Study; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern
Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Confidence In The Sovereign God (Acts 4:23-28)
23 After they
were released, they went to their own people and reported everything the
chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When
they heard this, they all raised their voices to God and said, “Master,
You are the One who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and
everything in them. 25 You said through the Holy Spirit,
by the mouth of our father David Your servant: “Why did the Gentiles
rage and the peoples plot futile things? 26 The kings of
the earth took their stand and the rulers assembled together against the
Lord and against His Messiah.” 27 “For, in fact, in
this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people
of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You
anointed, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had
predestined to take place.
When have you felt outnumbered?
series of events took place that let up to verse 23? (See Acts 3:1—4:22.)
actions of Peter and John had been so upsetting to the Jewish leaders?
or what was the Sanhedrin? (See
happened earlier in chapter 4 that caused the Sanhedrin to have Peter and John
taken into custody?
to Acts 4:5-12, what happened when they faced the Jewish council?
on Acts 4:13-18, what was the response of the Sanhedrin?
Acts 4:19-22, how would you summarize what led to Peter and John’s release?
their release, to whom did Peter and John go to report their situation (v. 23)?
do you think they went there first?
did they and the others join together to do?
Why do you think the disciples turned to God in
prayer (v. 24)?
are some highlights of the prayer they prayed described in these verses?
is the significance of the declaration Lord,
thou art God, and of identifying Him as creator?
would you have prayed about in this situation?
does this compare to what the people in the early church at that time prayed
Old Testament quotation did they include in their prayer? (See Psalm 2:1-2.)
was its significance in light of the current circumstances?
do you explain the concepts of human responsibility and divine sovereignty in
the crucifixion of Christ?
What are some benefits of incorporating praise
into our prayers?
did the early church respond to the threats of the Jewish leaders (v. 29)? (See
Acts 4:1-3 for actions of the Jewish leaders.)
the face of persecution if God chooses to not deliver us, how do you think we
Ask God For Boldness
29 And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that Your slaves may
speak Your message with complete boldness, 30 while You
stretch out Your hand for healing, signs, and wonders to be performed
through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 When
they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they
were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message
indicates they expected God to be at work to validate their witness (v. 29)?
light of their brush with the Jewish authorities, what did Peter and John and
the early church pray that God would give them (v. 29)?
do you think the church didn’t ask God to stop the threats or pleaded with Him to
prevent the threats from coming to pass?
do you think is significant about the use of the word “consider” in their prayer (v. 29)?
do you think they prayed for healing,
signs, and wonders to be performed (v. 30)?
on verse 30, how were signs and wonders to be accomplished?
do you think they wanted to power to heal
and to perform signs and wonders (v.
What strikes you about what the people did and
did not ask God to do for them?
was God’s response to their prayer (v. 31)?
is the authority behind the witness of the word (v. 31)?
do you think it means to be filled with
the Holy Spirit (v. 31)?
do you think the Holy Spirit gave them boldness to speak God’s message to
those assembled around Peter and John?
What does it look like to demonstrate spiritual
boldness in today’s world?
How can we strive for unity in the presence of
How do you think your
understanding of God shapes the way you pray?
Do you think the gospel is not advancing in our
culture because we lack spiritual boldness?
Why, or why not?
What do you think your witness would look like
if you prayed for spiritual boldness each day?
Lessons in Acts 4:29-31:
need to pray for each other to have boldness in telling others about
Jesus, even in situations that could be dangerous.
authenticated the gospel message that the apostles and the early church
filling of the Spirit results in bold proclamation of the gospel.
The news almost daily
includes some story wherein Christian values and convictions are being
criticized and challenged. In
some places around the world the numbers of lives lost on account of the
stand of people for their Christian faith is shocking.
In the United States, the challenges to faith come primarily in the
form of laws and policies that promote values and lifestyles that stand in
opposition to Christian truth as taught in Scripture.
So what are believers to do? At
times we need to engage in the political processes that are available to
us to elect leaders and endorse laws and policies that support our
convictions. At other times we
may need to stand strong even when it means facing threats and loss.
To do so will require a boldness beyond what we can muster up for
ourselves. It comes from the
indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
So, when it comes to boldness in
standing for Christian principles, how do you stand?
On a scale of 1 (weak) to 10 (very bold), how would you rate the
boldness you demonstrate in standing for Christian principles?
Does you boldness need the strengthening hand of the indwelling
Holy Spirit applied to your boldness rating?
God’s indwelling Holy Spirit stands ready to be applied to each
of our lives, when we truly want and ask for it?
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the
center of God’s will.
Lesson Outline, Introduction,
Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:
New King James Version:
And being let go, they went
to their own companions and
reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So
when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said:
"Lord, You are God, who
made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by
the mouth of Your servant David have said: 'Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? 26 The
kings of the earth took their stand, And
the rulers were gathered together Against
the LORD and against His Christ.' 27 "For truly against
Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with
the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to
do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. 29 Now,
Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness
they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and
that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant
Jesus." 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were
assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,
and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (NKJV)
New American Standard Version:
When they had been
released, they went to their own companions
and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24
And when they heard this,
they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is
You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, 25
who by the Holy Spirit, through
the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, 'WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE,
AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? 26 'THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK
THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST
HIS CHRIST.' 27 "For truly in this city there were gathered
together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and
Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to
do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 "And
now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may
speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to
heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant
Jesus." 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had
gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began
to speak the word of God with boldness. (NASV)
New Living Translation:
As soon as they were freed,
Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading
priests and elders had said. 24 When they heard the report, all the
believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord,
Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—25 you
spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant,
saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with
futile plans? 26 The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the
rulers gathered together against the LORD and against his Messiah.’ 27 “In
fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius
Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united
against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. 28 But
everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. 29 And
now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in
preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may
miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant
Jesus.” 31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they
were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with
boldness. 32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And
they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they
Lesson Outline — “When Opposition
Strikes” — Acts 4:23-31
Confidence In The Sovereign God (Acts 4:23-28)
Ask God For Boldness (Acts 4:29-31)
Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New
“Believer's Bible Commentary,” and “The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament: Acts 4:23-31
The church’s praise and petition
church’s response to the apostles’ release was a spontaneous outburst of
praise, psalmody, and petition. It begins (v. 24) by addressing God as Despota
(“Sovereign Lord”). This was a common title in the Greek world for rulers,
and it appears occasionally in Jewish circles as a form of address to God (cf. 3Macc
2:2; Luke 2:29; Rev 6:10). It is especially appropriate here in
conjunction with the servant names used of David (v. 25, pais sou,
“your servant”), Jesus (vv. 27, 30, ho hagios pais sou,
“your holy servant”), and believers themselves (v. 29, hoi
douloi sou, “your servants”). Structurally, the church’s response
includes an ascription to God drawn from Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah
37:16-20 (v. 24b), a quotation of Psalm 2:1-2 (vv. 25-26), the
reference to Jesus’ passion in terms of the psalm just cited (vv. 27-28),
and a petition for divine enablement in the Christians’ present circumstances
the prayer of the church two matters of theological interest stand out. First,
there is a “pesher” treatment (cf. comments on Psalm 2:16 in which the
groups enumerated in the psalm are equated with the various persons and groups
involved in Jesus’ crucifixion: “the kings of the earth” with King Herod;
“the rulers” with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate; “the nations” with
the Gentile authorities; and “the people” with “the people of Israel.”
The earliest extant suggestion that Psalm 2 had any messianic import in
Jewish thinking is Psalms of Solomon 17:26, where “the Son of David,”
who is also spoken of as “the Lord’s Anointed” (ho Christos kyriou,
v. 36), is presented as acting in terms of Psalm 2:9: “He shall
destroy the pride of the sinners as a potter’s vessel. With a rod of iron he
shall break in pieces all their substance.” Of late, and more explicitly, Psalm
2:1-2 has been found as a messianic testimonia portion in the DSS 4QFlorilegium,
in connection with 2 Samuel 7:10-14 and Psalm 1:1. It seems,
therefore, that sometime just prior to the Christian period, Psalm 2 was
beginning to be used within Jewish nonconformist circles as a messianic psalm
and that the early Jewish Christians knew of this usage and approved
it—though, of course, in its application to Jesus of Nazareth (cf. also the
use of Ps 2:7 in 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5; and Ps 2:9 in Rev
2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
in the church’s prayer the sufferings of Christian believers are related
directly to the sufferings of Christ and inferentially to the sufferings of
God’s righteous servants in the OT. This theme of the union of the sufferings
of Christ and those of his own is a theme that is developed in many ways
throughout the NT (cf. esp. Mark 8-10; Rom 8:17; Col 1:24; 1
Peter 2:20-25; 3:14-4:2; 4:12-13). It reaches its loftiest expression
in Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ.
significant is the fact that these early Christians were not praying for relief
from oppression or judgment on their oppressors but for enablement “to speak
your word with great boldness” amid oppressions and for God to act in mighty
power “through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (v. 30). Their
concern was for God’s word to go forth and for Christ’s name to be
glorified, leaving to God himself their own circumstances. With such prayer
surely God is well pleased. Luke has evidently taken pains to give us this
prayer so that it might serve as something of a pattern to be followed in our
a sign of God’s approval, Luke tells us that “the place where they were
meeting was shaken” (cf. Exod 19:18; Isa 6:4) and “they were all
filled with the Holy Spirit” (cf. comments on v. 8). And with such
motivation and divine enablement, their prayer was answered; and they “spoke
the word of God boldly” (parresias, “with confidence,”
Christian Concern Expressed in Sharing
back to one of the themes in his thesis paragraph of 2:42-47, Luke now
illustrates the nature and extent of the early believers’ commitment to one
another in social concern. This he does by a summary statement, then by an
example of genuine Christian concern, and finally by an example of disastrous
deceit. The subject of Christian social concern, which appears in 2:42-47
quite naturally along with matters of fellowship and worship in the context of
the believing community, also appears here by juxtaposition with the vignettes
in 3:1-4:31 and the inclusion of v. 33 in the context of the
apostles’ proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. For Luke as well as for the
early Christians, being filled with the Holy Spirit not only concerned
proclaiming the Word of God but also sharing possessions with the needy because
of believers’ oneness in Christ.
share their possessions
designation to plethos ton pisteusanton (lit., “the multitude of
believers”) means the whole congregation or, as in NIV, “all the
believers” (cf. 6:2, 5; 15:12, 30), whose united
allegiance to Jesus and one another is described by the common Hebraic idiom
“one in heart and mind” (kardia kai psyche mia, lit., “one in heart
and soul”; cf. Deut 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 26:16; 30:2,
6, 10; passim). This sense of
oneness extended to sharing their personal possessions with others in need (cf. 2:45).
the early believers considered themselves the righteous remnant within Israel.
So Deuteronomy 15:4 was undoubtedly in their mind: “There should be no
poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as
your inheritance, he will richly bless you.” Other Jewish groups that thought
of themselves in terms of a remnant theology expressed their spiritual oneness
by sharing their goods, and the Jerusalem church seems to have done likewise.
Practically, they had many occasions for such sharing. With the economic
situation in Palestine steadily deteriorating because of famine and political
unrest (cf. Jeremias, Jerusalem, pp. 121-22), employment was
limited—not only for Galileans and others who had left their fishing and
farming for living in the city, but also for the regular residents of Jerusalem
who now faced economic and social sanctions because of their new messianic
faith. Experientially, the spiritual oneness the believers found to be a living
reality through their common allegiance to Jesus must, they realized, be
expressed in caring for the physical needs of their Christian brothers and
sisters. Indeed, their integrity as a community of faith depended on their doing
in v. 32 we have, therefore, Luke’s illustration of his thesis statement
in 2:44-45 regarding the way the believers practiced communal living. They
were not monastics, for the Jerusalem apostles and brothers of Jesus were
married (cf. 1Cor 9:5), and so were many of the other believers (e.g.,
Ananias and Sapphira, 5:1-11). Nor did the believers form a closed society
like Qumran. They lived in their own homes (cf. 2:46; 12:12) and had
their own possessions as any household would. In these ways the communal life of
the early Christians differed from that of the Qumran covenanters. But though
the Christians had personal possessions, they did not consider them private
possessions (idion einai, “was his own,” NIV) to be held exclusively
for their own use and enjoyment. Rather, they shared what they had and so
expressed their corporate life.
SOURCE: The Expositor’s
Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General
Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers
American Commentary: Acts 4:23-31
The Prayer of the Community (4:23–31)
23On their release, Peter and John went back to
their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to
them. 24When they heard this, they raised their voices together in
prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the
earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25You spoke by the Holy
Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the
nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26The kings of the earth
take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his
Anointed One.’ 27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with
the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will
had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their
threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch
out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name
of your holy servant Jesus.” 31After they prayed, the place where
they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and
spoke the word of God boldly. (NIV)
Peter’s first sermon, at Pentecost, was
followed by a glimpse into the common life of the Christians in Jerusalem
(2:42–47). Here, after Peter’s witness before the crowd in the temple square
and before the Sanhedrin, we are again given a glimpse into the life of the
Christian community. Just as chap. 2 spoke of their common prayer life (2:42),
here again the prayer of the Christians is emphasized, with the major difference
being that what was mentioned in summary fashion in the former passage is here
related concretely with an example of their prayers.
4:23 Verse 23 provides the
setting and the linkage with the preceding narrative. After their release Peter
and John returned “to their own people.” Many interpreters see this as
referring only to the other apostles, viewing vv. 24–30 as the apostles’
prayer for boldness in their witness. The
apostles, however, were not the only bold witnesses in Acts. Note Stephen (6:10)
and Philip (8:5), to mention only the next two major witnesses in Acts. The
whole community was involved in the proclamation of the word, and the community
gathered for prayer when the apostles
were in difficulty (cf. 12:12). That is the picture here—the Christians
gathered to pray for the deliverance of the two apostles from the Sanhedrin.
When Peter and John arrived on the scene, they informed them of the warning
given by “the chief priest and elders.” The fellowship responded with
praise to God for delivering the apostles (vv. 24–28) and a petition for
courage to continue their bold witness in the face of such opposition (vv.
4:24–28 Together they lifted
their voices in praise to God. That they offered an occasional prayer of this
nature in unison is unlikely. Luke was simply expressing that the whole
community joined together in this prayer. God
was addressed as “Sovereign Lord,” a common designation for God in the Old Testament and appropriate
to this gathering of Jewish Christians. God
was further addressed as Creator, Maker of heaven, earth, the seas and all that
dwell in them, again in language thoroughly steeped in Old Testament phraseology
(cf. Exod 20:11). More
than that the whole form of the prayer has Old Testament precedents. Compare
Hezekiah’s prayer in Isa 37:16–20, where the same elements appear: God was
addressed as Lord and Creator, there followed a reference to the threat of
Israel’s enemies, and the prayer concluded with a petition. It is in the
petition that the major difference from the Christians’ prayer appears.
Hezekiah prayed for deliverance. The Christians prayed for courage.
In the community’s prayer the reference to the
threat of enemies is given in the form of a scriptural proof. The Scripture is
in the exact Septuagintal rendering of Ps 2:1–2 and is presented as a
prophecy, spoken by God through David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Most likely originally relating to God’s triumph over Israel’s
enemies through the anointed king, the Christians came to see it as in a real
sense prophetic of Christ. All
the details of these first verses of the psalm were applicable to the passion of
Christ, and the Christians did so in their
prayer (v. 27). The raging nations represented the Gentile rulers and their
cohorts, the soldiers who executed Jesus. The people of Israel were those who
plotted in vain. Herod
represented the “kings of the earth”; Pilate, the “rulers”; and
Christ, the “anointed” of God. Here
again as in chap. 3 the title “servant” is applied to Jesus. Here in a
prayer the term is primarily liturgical and is applied to David as well in v.
25. The theme of v. 28 is by now
familiar. All the plotting against God’s
anointed is in vain because God has already predetermined the outcome (cf. 2:23;
3:18). In the paradox of human freedom and divine sovereignty, despite all the
raging of humanity, God’s purposes prevail. They did so in Christ. They did so
with the apostles before the Sanhedrin.
4:29–30 The community turned to
its petition: “Now, Lord, consider their threats.” Whose threats? The
Sanhedrin’s, of course. Just like the threats, plots, and rages against Jesus,
the community viewed itself in much the situation he had experienced. The authorities had raged
against him, and God made him to triumph in the power of his resurrection. So
now the same temporal powers had raged and plotted against the apostles. Like
Christ, God had delivered them. The Christians
realized that the opposition was not over. The Sanhedrin continued to threaten
them. One would expect them to ask God for further deliverance. They did not.
Instead, they asked for more of the same, requesting of him boldness in witness
and further miraculous signs. The request for miracle was not a request for
power over their enemies. It was closely related to the request for boldness in
In Acts the miracles are always in the service
of the word. They are “signs” in the sense that they point beyond themselves
to the ultimate power of the gospel message of Christ’s resurrection and the
salvation that is in him (4:12). That was amply illustrated in the miracle they
experienced. The healing of the lame man started the whole train of events that
took them before the Sanhedrin. The healing did not deliver them from danger; if
anything, it provoked it. On the other hand, the healing first attracted those
who listened to Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Colonnade and responded to the
word in faith. This is what the community prayed for—more signs to undergird
the word, more boldness to proclaim it. They surely knew what the result would
4:31 Their prayer was
answered by the shaking of the house. Perhaps a shaking from thunder or a
quaking of the earth, it gave them a tangible sense of God’s presence and his
response to their prayer. And
their prayer was fulfilled at once. Immediately they were filled with the Holy
Spirit and began to speak the word with boldness, just as they had petitioned. This was not a
“second Pentecost.” They
had already received the Spirit. The Spirit had helped Peter and John in a
mighty way before the Sanhedrin. It was a fresh filling, a renewed awareness of
the Spirit’s power and presence in their life and
witness. This was not an ephemeral ecstatic manifestation but a fresh endowment
of power for witness that would continue (cf. 4:33).
5. The Common Life of the Community (4:32–37)
32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No
one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything
they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the
resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (NIV)
The previous episode exemplified the prayer life
of the community with an actual incident. Luke returned to his summary style to
further picture the life together, much as he did in 2:42–47. Many of the
themes are the same, but there is considerable development of one theme in
particular, the sharing of goods within the fellowship.
4:32–33 The opening two verses
are almost identical with 2:43–44, only in reverse order. Together they
characterize the community life as marked by four things: their unity in mind
and heart (v. 32a), their sharing of their possessions (v. 32b), the power and
witness of the apostles (v. 33a), and the grace of God, which rested upon them
(v. 33b). The overarching concept was their unity, their being “one in heart
and mind,” their fellowship in the Spirit (cf. koinōnia in 2:42). This served as the basis of
their sharing of their possessions. The latter is described in two ways. First, “no one claimed that any of his
possessions was his own.” The picture is one of unqualified sharing, of not
claiming owner’s rights, of saying “what’s mine is yours.” The second
expression is “they shared everything they had.” The Greek literally reads
“everything was in common with them.” Taken by itself, this could refer to
shared ownership; but in conjunction with the first expression, it also refers
to a practice of freely sharing one’s goods with another.
SOURCE: The New
American Commentary; Volume 26; Acts; John B. Polhill; Broadman
Press; Nashville, Tennessee.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Acts 4:23-31
4:23. As soon as they were released, Peter and John went
back to their own company, their own people. The Greek expression used here
could mean to the people of their own nation or tribe, or it could mean to their
own family. In this case it meant the body of believers who had become the true
family of God. It corresponds to what Ephesians 2:19 calls the household of God,
the family that belongs to God.
From what Luke records on other occasions, it seems certain these
believers were gathered together to pray for Peter and John, and that they
rejoiced and gave God praise for their release. Then the apostles reported all
the high priest and elders had said to them, holding nothing back.
4:24. The warnings and threats of the Jewish leaders did
not frighten the believers. Neither did they ignore them. They took them to God.
The word "voice" is in the singular here, which means they all joined
together and prayed in unison. They prayed also in one accord, that is, with one
purpose. Probably, however, the prayer which the Bible records here was given by
one of them who became the spokesman for them all.
Much can be learned from this prayer. First, as in the case of most of
the prayers in the Bible, they recognized who God is. They addressed Him as Lord
(a different word from that used elsewhere in the Bible, this one meaning
Master, Owner, Sovereign) and thus presented themselves before Him as His
servants, even as His slaves. They were not making demands on Him. They were
throwing themselves on His mercy, looking for His grace, His unmerited favor.
Then they recognized that He alone is God, the God of all power, for He
is the Creator of the universe and all that is in every part of it. He is
Sovereign over the universe, the true King of the universe, by right of
4:25. Second, they based their petition on the inspired
Word of God, spoken by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of King David. Again,
most of the prayers of the Bible are based on the Word of God already given.
Psalm 2:1, 2 was a word from the Lord that fitted their situation and made them
feel God knew in advance what their situation was and how to deal with it.
Psalm 2 speaks of an opposition like that of the Jewish leaders. It asks
why the heathen (the nations, the Gentiles) were raging (with a general
hostility against God). It emphasizes the question by repeating it in a little
different way and asking why the peoples (plural) imagined (planned, were
devising) a vain (empty, foolish, ineffective) thing.
This psalm was, of course, speaking first of all of the Gentiles, the
nations who were enemies of God and His people. It tells believers that all the
plans men try to devise, hoping to hinder or stop the plan of God, are doomed to
failure. God is still in control, but He is also patient.
4:26. David further identified this raging, foolish
planning as the kings of the earth standing by each other, trying to support
each other against God. This idea is repeated for emphasis by saying that the
rulers "were gathered together against the Lord (that is, against the
divine Lord, 'Lord' standing for the personal name of God, the Hebrew YHWH),
and against his Christ," that is, against His Messiah, His Anointed One,
God's anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.
This prayer, inspired by the Spirit, recognized that the Jewish leaders
were in the same class as the outside nations who were always conspiring against
God and His Anointed, in this case, against Jesus. There is precedent for this
in that the Old Testament prophets sometimes used the word gôyim
(usually translated "Gentiles") for Israel because Israel had turned
4:27. This prayer then specifically identifies Psalm 2
with those who were gathered together (with hostile purpose) against God's holy
child Jesus. Herod here is Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea,
the same ruler who put John the Baptist to death. In his Gospel, Luke records
how Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus, threw a brightly colored robe around
Him, and sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:11). The same day Herod and Pilate
were made friends. Their treatment of Jesus caused them to be among those who
were gathered together against God and His Son, Jesus.
These enemies of God and Christ also included the Gentiles, in this case
the Roman soldiers and the peoples of Israel. People is a word ordinarily
used of Israel as God's chosen people. The Greek is in the plural here, possibly
because the 12 tribes were all represented in Israel, but more probably because
the Israelites were divided into various sects, such as the Pharisees and
Sadducees. It may also be a recognition that they were in the same category as
the Gentiles (literally, nations, also in the plural).
As before, Luke used the word "child" (Greek, paida) in
the sense of "servant." "Holy child" thus means the
dedicated, consecrated Servant of the Lord, the same Suffering Servant
prophesied in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
4:28. Yet they could do only what God's hand (that is,
God's power) and God's will had determined before (decided beforehand) to be
done. They were, however, responsible for their deeds, for they chose freely to
The believers based their petition on what God did through Jesus. God's
hand was in control when He permitted the death of Jesus; Jesus was indeed God's
Servant who accomplished God's will in their behalf. They could come to God on
the basis of what was fully accomplished through the death and resurrection of
Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:23, 24; 3:11; 2 Corinthians 1:20).
4:29. Their petition was that the Lord would now look on
the threatenings of the Sanhedrin and give His servants (slaves) opportunities
to keep on speaking the Word with all boldness (and freedom of speech). Perhaps
they felt less confident after they left the courtroom than while they were in
it. Even after a spiritual victory Satan may suggest that believers have acted
foolishly, so they must pray for continued boldness. Abraham also became afraid
after boldly testifying before the king of Sodom, but God reassured him (Genesis
4:30. What would provide new opportunities for the
apostles to speak boldly and freely for their Lord? They knew how the Lord had
used the healing of the lame man to spread the gospel and add new believers to
the Church. But the healing of the lame man was just a beginning. There would be
more such opportunities provided by God's stretching out His hand (extending
through them His power) for healing and for signs and wonders to be done through
the name of His holy child (Servant) Jesus. Here the word "holy" means
separated to God and His service and emphasizes the consecration and dedication
of Jesus to the work His Heavenly Father gave Him to do. Jesus made it clear He
was sanctified (made holy, set apart, consecrated, dedicated) by the Father and
sent by the Father into the world (John 10:36). He finished the work His Father
gave Him to do (John 17:4).
The entire company of believers joined in with this prayer for boldness
to keep on doing the same thing that had brought the arrest of Peter and John
and the threats of the Sanhedrin. They did not want miracles for miracles' sake,
however. Rather, they were opportunities to preach the gospel and signs to help
the people recognize that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead and is truly the
Christ, the Son of God.
4:31. After they prayed, the place where they were
gathered was shaken, not by an earthquake but by the Spirit, indicating a mighty
move of God. It is probably true that the people were shaken as well. As they
felt this shaking, the whole company of believers were all filled with the Holy
Spirit; and in His power they all continued speaking the Word of God with
boldness (and freedom of speech). This was as great a work of the Spirit as the
The Greek indicates again a new, fresh filling of the Spirit. Some
writers contend that only the new people (the 5,000 mentioned in 4:4) were
filled at this time. But the Greek does not uphold this. All the believers,
including the apostles, received the fresh filling to meet the continued need
and to withstand the pressures upon them. New, fresh fillings of the Holy Spirit
are part of God's wonderful provision for all believers.
4:32. The increasing number of believers continued in one
heart and one soul. They formed a community of believers who were in one accord,
with a unity of mind, purpose, and desire. None of them said, "What I have
is mine and I am afraid I might need it all myself." Instead, they felt a
love and responsibility for each other. They recognized they were all partners
in the work of God, so all things were shared. God was supplying their needs,
and they believed He would continue to provide. The same attitude that sprang up
after they were first filled on the Day of Pentecost still prevailed (2:4, 5).
Again, there was no compulsion. Their sharing was simply an expression of their
love and their unity of mind and heart.
This does not mean they turned away from unbelievers who were in need.
The Bible urges Christians to be considerate of the poor and to do good to all
men, "especially unto them who are of the household of faith," that
is, the believers who are in the family of God (Galatians 6:10). Christians have
a special responsibility to help fellow believers who are in need.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts. Database ©
2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
Herod (v. 27)—There are
several Herods mentioned in the New Testament. The Herod in Acts 4 was Herod
Antipas, governor of Galilee, the same Herod Jesus was sent to during His trial.
He was the son of Herod the Great, ruler at the time of Jesus’ birth.
28)—The word means “to decide upon or determine beforehand.” The
crucifixion of Jesus was part of the pre-determined plan of God to accomplish
His saving purpose.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
God’s work in ordaining salvation for people without their prior knowledge.
English noun, predestination, does not occur in the Bible. The Greek verb
translated predestinate occurs only four times in two passages of the Bible
(Rom. 8:29,30; Eph. 1:5,11). It is used in Acts 4:28 of human determination. The
word means to determine before or ordain. On these minimal facts entire systems
of doctrine have been built.
word predestinate (proorizo) is closely related to three other
more frequently used biblical words: 1. to determine; 2. to elect;
3. to foreknow. Each of these represents several Greek and Hebrew words.
Study of these words shows that for a study of predestination the key passages
are Romans 8; Ephesians 1; and 1 Peter 1. One of the appropriate things to
notice in this biblical survey is that Acts refers to the purpose of God as
determined (Acts 2:23; 11:29; 17:26); refers to Jesus as God’s previously
chosen One (2:23; 10:41-42); to the early church as those previously taken in
hand by God (Acts 22:14). A wise plan is to examine the major passages keeping
the verses in Acts in mind.
the word predestinate is used only in verses 29 and 30 of this chapter,
we must explore the entire chapter to understand the use of the word. Romans 7-8
form Paul’s famous battle of the flesh and of the spirit. Romans 7 speaks of
the place of law in shaping life. Law makes requirements, but it has no power to
help people keep them. Sin is a constant struggle and an overwhelming experience
(7:23-24). Romans 8 is life in the Spirit. God’s Spirit aids our spirit in the
struggles of life and helps us to conquer all things through His Spirit. God
purposes for His people a victorious, overcoming life. Such a life is not
possible when we go it alone. God chooses and determines that it will be
otherwise for His people.
references to predestination in verses 29 and 30 come in the midst of a section
of Scripture on salvation and spiritual struggle. Was Paul saying that all of
his experience, before becoming a Christian and after, God decided in such a way
that Paul had nothing to do with it and no decision in it? These passages could
be seen that way, but they need not be. They also can be seen as the struggle of
human willfulness and divine purpose and guidance. I see these passages,
especially in the light of Paul’s other writings, as a real struggle in which
Paul realized that God’s purpose for us is good and that God’s determination
to help us is prior to all of our struggles. In Jesus Christ, God has set the
pattern. Believers are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. God’s
determination is particularly and eternally expressed in what Christ is. He is
like what we are supposed to be like. God’s Spirit will help us to be like
a discussion of election and predestination, questions about Jacob and Esau
(Rom. 9:13) arise, as do questions about God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart”
(Rom. 9:17-18). These verses could be interpreted to mean that God beforehand
had planned things out without any regard for human response. The worst scenario
would suggest that God had taken a nice young Egyptian prince and turned him
into a monster. Romans 9:13 could mean that God really hated Esau and played
favorites among His children. I do not believe this is the proper way to
understand these passages. Paul, their human author, is looking back.
Interpretations are easier after the fact. Whereas God is no respecter of
persons whom He has created, He does not violate the free will He gave to
humankind. God works with it. A better interpretation of these passages is to
say that God used what Esau and Pharaoh had become. Esau, a compulsive man who
sought instant gratification of his desires, would not be the kind of person who
becomes a patriarch. Pharaoh, a ruthless man, God confirmed and judged as an
oppressor; Pharaoh’s harsh and cruel acts were punished. In that punishment
God received glory to Himself, even out of Pharaoh’s disobedience.
first chapter of Ephesians is first and foremost about Jesus Christ. Christ
contains, expresses, and effects God’s purpose. When people hear the gospel
message and believe that message (vv. 13,15), they live on earth under the
leadership of Jesus Christ as Head of the body.
believers are sealed by the Spirit (v. 13); therefore, the power of God working
in us can enlarge us, open our eyes, increase our faith, and enable us to
believe. Does God do this without our own willing and cooperation, or are we
free participants in what God is doing through the believing community under the
headship of Christ and in the power of the Spirit? It seems to me that the
believers addressed are welcomed to faith and encouraged to believe and enlarge
their lives in Christ’s church. The specific references in verses 5 and 11 fit
in this context if we do not draw them out of place and ask first what it means
that we were predestined before the foundation of the world according to God’s
will. Jesus Christ is first and foremost God’s chosen. He is the agent of
God’s redemptive plan from eternity. Jesus Christ embodies the way, the will,
and the good pleasure of God. By Jesus we know the Father; in Him God’s will
is effected in history. We are included as we are included in Jesus. We are
included, predestined, and elected as we believe in Him by the power of the
Spirit. God, working His way through us, determines us. Apparently, part of God’s determination is that the Ephesians and
ourselves should be participants in our limited human way with God in doing
God’s will. God’s will is that people should have a will to exercise toward
God. The painful personal experience reflected in Romans 7 and the sinful
corporate experiences of human divisions spoken of in the remainder of Ephesians
lead us to believe that we can also exercise our wills in refusing to believe in
God and in disobeying God. Predestination never eliminates human will.
Peter 1:2 is a part of the greeting of the author to the readers. He greets them
and us in the name of the foreknowing Father, the sanctifying Spirit, and the
sacrifice of the Son. The greeting is a kind of prelude under which exhortations
to Christian living are given. The entire epistle presupposes both the guidance
of God and the ability of people to cooperate with God in living the Christian
22:22 declares that Jesus died according to the plan of God in which He freely
participated. So does Acts 2:23, which adds human wickedness also entered into
the betrayal of Jesus. Acts 10:41 assures us that the eyewitness apostles were
especially chosen of God. The disciples determined they would provide help to
the needy (Acts 11:29). God determined the basic parameters of humanity (Acts
17:26). The gist of these references is that God works according to a plan and
purpose and so should we, especially as we determine to do His will.
special problems that arise in relation to predestination are the place of
Judaism (Rom. 9-11) and of Judas (John 6:70-71) in the determination of God.
Paul said that Judaism is God’s preparation for the fulness of Christ, that
they rejected God’s fullest revelation of God in Christ, and that God
confronts them with Christ inevitably and ultimately. Meanwhile, the task of the
church is to confront all persons with Christ. The purpose of predestination is
to be conformed to goodness and to bear witness to God in Christ. Judas was
chosen by Jesus as were all of the disciples. As all disciples of Jesus, Judas
had the capacity for betrayal—so did Peter. Judas exercised his will to
betray. The evil one found in Judas a willing instrument (John 13:27). Jesus had
to be betrayed. Judas did not have to do it, but he did.
above basic biblical facts were used to construct later doctrinal systems. Human
logic and the desire for systematic conclusions and neat, packaged answers lead
to hard solutions about freedom and destiny. Questions which lead to this
development were: If God is sovereign, how can humans be free? If God knows
about everything in advance, does that mean that He forces things to be the way
they are? Does not God give grace to those who are to be saved and withhold it
from those who are not? If God decreed that some are to be saved, does this not
mean He has predestined others to be damned?
problem with these later questions is that they go beyond Scripture in their
desire to figure everything out. They ignore large portions of Scripture and
Christian experience which assume human choice and the integrity of human
freedom. In the last analysis, the way in which God’s guidance of His creation
interfaces with human freedom is unknown to us. I am convinced that God who made
us with will and freedom woos us by His grace and condemns people only because
of their own willfulness and unbelief. The only alternatives are to suppose that
God is going to force all to be saved, whether they want to be or not; or that
God, in a choosey way, is going to save some favorites but deliberately withhold
salvation from others. I cannot find either of these views consistent with the
full range of biblical teaching. Predestination is an assurance of God’s
redemptive love. There has never been a time, not even before creation, when God
has not shown redemptive love for His creation. Whatever else predestination
means, it assures us that God takes the initiative in relation to creation and
that God pursues us with redemptive love.
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
(Ssan hee’ drihn): The
highest Jewish council in the first century. The council had 71 members and was
presided over by the high priest. The
Sanhedrin included both of the main Jewish parties among its membership. Since
the high priest presided, the Sadducean priestly party seems to have
predominated; but some leading Pharisees also were members (Acts 5:34; 23:1-9).
word Sanhedrin is usually translated “council” in the English
translations of the Bible. Because of the predominance of the chief priests in
the Sanhedrin, at times the words chief priests seem to refer to the
action of the Sanhedrin, even though the name itself is not used.
to Jewish tradition, the Sanhedrin began with the 70 elders appointed by Moses
in Numbers 11:16 and was reorganized by Ezra after the Exile. However, the Old
Testament provides no evidence of a council that functioned like the Sanhedrin
of later times. Thus, the Sanhedrin had its origin sometime during the centuries
between the Testaments.
the first century, the Sanhedrin exerted authority under the watchful eye of the
Romans. Generally, the Roman governor allowed the Sanhedrin considerable
autonomy and authority. The trial of Jesus, however, shows that the Sanhedrin
did not have the authority to condemn people to death (John 18:31). Later,
Stephen was stoned to death after a hearing before the Sanhedrin, but this may
have been more a mob action than a legal execution authorized by the Sanhedrin
(Acts 6:12-15; 7:54-60).
Gospels describe the role of the Sanhedrin in the arrest, trials, and
condemnation of Jesus. The Sanhedrin, under the leadership of Caiaphas the high
priest, plotted to have Jesus killed (John 11:47-53). The chief priests
conspired with Judas to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). After His arrest they
brought Jesus into the council (Luke 22:66). They used false witnesses to
condemn Jesus (Matt. 26:59-60; Mark 14:55-56). They sent Him to Pilate and
pressured Pilate into pronouncing the death sentence (Mark 15:1-15).
Book of Acts describes how the Sanhedrin harassed and threatened the apostles.
The healing of the man at the Temple and Peter’s sermon attracted the
attention of the chief priests. Peter and John were called before the council
and warned not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:5-21). When the
apostles continued to preach, the council had them arrested (Acts 5:21,27). The
wise counsel of Gamaliel caused the council to release the apostles with a
beating and a warning (Acts 5:34-42). Stephen had to appear before the Sanhedrin
on charges that sounded like the false charges against Jesus (Acts 6:12-15).
Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, the Roman commander asked the council to examine
Paul to decide what was Paul’s crime (Acts 22:30; 23:28). Paul identified
himself as a Pharisee who was on trial for his hope of resurrection. This
involved the council in a debate of the divisive issue of the resurrection (Acts
23:1-9). The chief priests and elders were part of a plot to have Paul
assassinated as he was led to another hearing before the council (Acts
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
The Sanhedrin Their History and Function
By Steve Lemke
Steve Lemke is provost and professor of
philosophy, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.
OT UNLIKE BEING CALLED for an audit
with the IRS, being summoned before the Sanhedrin usually did not portend a
positive experience in the New Testament era.
This negative implication is clearly the case when early church leaders
such as Peter, James, Stephen, and Paul were brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts
4—7; 22—24). What was the
Sanhedrin, its history and makeup, and what were its responsibilities?
was the supreme council of New Testament Judaism, conducting judicial and
legislative functions related to a wide range of political and religious
affairs. The word “Sanhedrin”
comes from the Greek word synedrion,
which means “place of those who sit together,” “council,” or
“assembly.” In the Septuagint,
the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Proverbs 24:7 and 26:26 use the word
synedrion in the general sense of an
assembly or council.1
Origin and History
council of 70 elders Moses appointed (Num. 11:16), later reorganized by Ezra
after the Babylonian exile, provided a model for the Sanhedrin and other
leadership groups within Jerusalem. Some
Jews pointed back to Moses’ 70 elders as the first Sanhedrin, but this early
group’s role and function were quite different from the Sanhedrin in the New
Testament era. The first appearance
of an organization similar to the Sanhedrin of the New Testament came about 200
BC during the reign of Syria’s King Antiochus III, who created a Senate
(Greek: gerousia ) in Jerusalem.2
This group originally consisted only of aristocratic priests and elders
(who favored the Sadducees), but Queen Alexandra (76-67 BC) added the scribes
(who favored the Pharisees) to the Senate. The
Greek New Testament uses this word gerousia
in describing “the Sanhedrin—the full Senate of the sons of Israel” (Acts
5:21, HCSB). Some suggest this verse
could refer to two separate groups (the Sanhedrin and the Senate), but the
better evidence suggests the Sanhedrin functioned as the Senate of Israel.
Josephus’s writings, the Sanhedrin makes its first appearance in the form
known also in the New Testament. He
described when Gabinius, the Roman governor of Syria, created five Sanhedrins in
Israel in 57 BC. Josephus also
relayed that during the Hasmonean era (165-63 BC), the Sanhedrin became involved
in a political dispute between King Herod and Hyrcanus, the ethnarch of Judea.3
reached the pinnacle of its power during later second temple Judaism, which
would have included the New Testament era. After
the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in AD 70, the Sanhedrin
reconstituted in Jamnia and then migrated to several other locations.
The body had lost its political authority and could determine only
religious matters. When the Romans
abolished the office of president of the Sanhedrin in the fifth century, the
Sanhedrin came to an end. Although
some persons later attempted to reconstitute the Sanhedrin, these efforts never
gained a strong following in Judaism.4
In The New Testament
Greek word for “Sanhedrin” appears 22 times in the New Testament, including
5 references in the Gospels and 14 references in the Book of Acts (although some
English translations sometimes translate synedrion
differently, such as “council”). Many
additional New Testament verses reference members of the Sanhedrin by the
subgroup of the Sanhedrin with which they were aligned—the chief priests,
scribes, and elders.
Testament usually presents the Sanhedrin in a negative light.
For instance, Jesus warned His disciples they would experience
persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin (Matt. 10:17; Mark 13:9).
Additionally, the Sanhedrin was concerned about Jesus’ miracles, both
because these signs attested to His divinity and because the Sanhedrin feared
that the Roman government would kill many of the people of Jerusalem if their
excitement about Jesus’ miracles led them to talk of crowning Jesus as king.
Following the leadership of the high priest Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin saw
Jesus’ popularity as a dangerous menace and actively began seeking ways to
kill Jesus (Luke 11:49-54; John 11:47-53). Jesus
was led, therefore, before members of the Sanhedrin after His arrest in
Gethsemane. The Sanhedrin attempted
to solicit false witnesses against Jesus to trump up charges against Him (Matt.
26:57-66; Mark 14:53-64). The
Sanhedrin handed Jesus over to Pilate to get his approval to crucify Him (15:1).
typically held their meetings in the chamber of hewed stone, which was on the
western side of the temple mount.5
The Sanhedrin never met on Sabbath days or feast days.
Sentencing in capital cases could not be done on the same day as the
trial or on the eve of a Sabbath or festival.
Meetings were normally held during the daytime, and capital cases in
particular could not be tried at night. The
New Testament highlights that each of these procedural steps was violated in
Jesus’ trial. The Sanhedrin met at
the high priest’s house rather than the temple; the trial took place during
the Passover observance; the trial took place at night; and the death sentence
was determined the same night.6
was also involved in trials of several leaders of the early church.
Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin and instructed not to
preach or do miracles in Christ’s name (Acts 4:5-22; 5:17-41).
The apostles refused to do what the Sanhedrin asked.
Stephen was also hauled before the Sanhedrin.
Angered by Stephen’s sermon to them,
the religious leaders stoned him to death (6:11-7:60).
Paul was also brought before the Sanhedrin, beginning the legal
proceedings that ultimately led to his Roman imprisonment (22:30—23:35). In
each of these cases, the Sanhedrin functioned as a judicial body to render
Sanhedrin usually played a negative role with regard to Jesus and the early
church, in a few instances we see some Sanhedrin members in a more favorable
light. Jesus said anyone who calls a
person “Raca” is guilty of a crime just as serious as the murder cases the
Sanhedrin heard (Matt. 5:21-22). Also,
two Sanhedrin members became advocates of Jesus and the church—or at least
were more moderate in their attitudes than their colleagues.
Joseph of Arimathea, who offered his cave as a burial place for Jesus,
was a member of the Sanhedrin (Matt. 17:57-60; Mark 15:43-46).
Further, when apostles were brought before the court, Sanhedrin member
Gamaliel advised the council not to oppose the early church (Acts 5:34-39).
Organization and Membership
Mishnah prescribed that the Sanhedrin
was to have 71 members—70 members plus the high priest, who served as
president and convener of the group (Mark 14:53; Acts 24:1).
All members were to be of pure Israelite descent.
Membership appears to have been gained by appointment rather than
election, perhaps by the chief priest. History
offers no details, however, about the precise process of how Sanhedrin vacancies
were filled. Further, we know of no
special training for membership in the Sanhedrin beyond the requirement that the
Sanhedrin be made up of the leading Jews in Jerusalem, men who would have had
access to the best rabbinical training available.
“Actual admission was through the laying on of hands.”7
in the New Testament era consisted of three distinct subgroups—the chief
priests, the scribes, and the elders (Matt. 27:41; Mark 11:27; 14:43).
The chief priests (note the plural) were of priestly lineage and
aristocratic in heritage. The New
Testament almost invariably lists them first, indicating their leadership role.
The chief priests were affiliated with the Sadducees.
The elders were either priests or wealthy lay leaders who also were of
aristocratic heritage and Sadducean learning.
The scribes favored the Pharisees.
the division between Sadducees and Pharisees to avoid being sentenced during his
trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:29—23:10).
When Paul identified himself with the Pharisees and stated he was being
tried for believing in the resurrection (affirmed by the Pharisees but rejected
by the Sadducees), the Sanhedrin was thrown into such conflict that they could
take no further action (23:6-10).
clearly distinguishes the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem from the lesser
Sanhedrins in many cities. The Mishnah prescribed that each town with at least 120 Jewish men
should have a local Sanhedrin of 23 members.
Perhaps these numerous Sanhedrins were the ones that Jesus referred to as
agents of persecution of His disciples (Matt. 10:17; Mark 13:9).8
The Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, however, was the single final authority
in Jewish life. While moat sources
identify the high priest as the one who presided over the Sanhedrin, some
rabbinical and Talmudic sources describe the Sanhedrin as an assembly of sages
headed by two Pharisaic scholars, a president and a vice-president (or
chancellor). Biblical scholars have
attempted to reconcile these two depictions of the Sanhedrin.
Some have suggested that there were actually three Sanhedrins of 23
members—a priestly, Pharisaic, and aristocratic Sanhedrin—that occasionally
met together to form the Great Sanhedrin. Others
propose that two Sanhedrins existed—one political and one religious.
The majority of scholars believe, however, the one Great Sanhedrin
performed political, religious, and judicial functions.9
Function and Duties
Sanhedrin’s structure and function evolved over the years as the council
adapted to changing political realities. However,
at its height of power in later second-temple Judaism, the Sanhedrin had
judicial, legislative, political, and religious functions.
The judicial functions seemed to be the Sanhedrin’s predominant role.
The Great Sanhedrin was the final court of appeals and thus rendered a
final opinion on all matters of interpretation of the Law as it related to daily
in its judicial role could try a whole tribe, a false prophet, or even national
figures such as the high priest. In
much of its history, the Sanhedrin had the power to try and execute cases
involving sentences of capital punishment. The
power was taken away, however, during the period of the Roman procurators (John
18:31). This is why the Sanhedrin
took Jesus to Pilate; they could not give Him the death sentence by stoning.
So they sought crucifixion from the Roman authorities.
In the case of Stephen, the Sanhedrin actually did carry out a death
sentence by stoning, although the text is not clear whether this was a
deliberate action of a court or that of a frenzied mob (Acts 6:8—7:60).
legislative role, the Sanhedrin could issue decrees and proclaim ordinances.
In its political role, the Sanhedrin could approve a king’s
appointment, sanction an offensive war, and perform other administrative
matters. In its religious role, the
Sanhedrin could appoint a high priest and was the final court of appeals for all
religious matters. The Sanhedrin was
responsible for determining the religious calendar that dictated many details of
Levitical worship, a role that allowed the Jews of the Diaspora to worship in
coordination with Jews in Jerusalem.
was the central authority of Jewish life. The
wisdom of its members provided guidance and direction for Jews around the world
for centuries. For Christians,
however, the Sanhedrin was usually a vehicle of persecution and torment.
Eduard Lohse, Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich,
trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1971), 861.
The Antiquities of the Jews in The Works of Josephus: Complete
and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,
1987), 12.3.3 (p. 317); 2 Macc. 11:27-33.
Hugo Mantel, “Sanhedrin” in Encyclopaedia
Judaica, 2nd ed., ed. in chief Fred Skolnik, vol. 18 (New York:
Macmillan Reference USA, 2007), 21; Antiquities
14.5.4 (p. 371), 14.9.3-4 (pp. 376-77), 15.6.2 (p. 408), 16.11.1 (p. 447-48).
See “Sanhedrin” in The
Encyclopedia of Judaism, ed. in chief Geoffrey Wigoder (New York: Macmillan
Pub. Co., 1989), 624.
Avraham Walfish, “Sanhedrin” in The
Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, ed. in chief R. J. Zwi Werblowsky
and Geoffrey Wigoder (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 607.
Graham H. Twelftree, “Sanhedrin” in Dictionary
of New Testament Background, ed. Graig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1063-64.
Lohse, 866; see Sanhedrin 1.1,
6, in The Mishna, trans. Herbert Danby
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), 382-83.
Walfish, 607; Mantel, 22-23; “Sanhedrin” in The Encyclopedia of Judaism, 624.
The Builder and Ruler
By Timothy N. Boyd
N. Boyd is pastor, First Baptist Church, Mulvane, Kansas.
was the son of Herod the Great and his Samaritan wife, Malthace.
He was born in approximately 20 BC. Fortunately
for Antipas, his father, who had already killed some of Antipas’s siblings,
died before Antipas could become a perceived threat.
Educated in Rome, he grew up associating with Roman nobility.
In making his fifth will, Herod appointed Antipas to be his sole
successor. Before his death,
however, he had waffled on what his surviving sons should inherit.
In his sixth and final will (five days before his death), Herod appointed
Archelaus as the sole ruler. At
Herod’s death a dispute between the brothers ensued, so Archelaus and Antipas
went to Rome, where Augustus eventually decided to uphold Herod’s final
testament. The territory was divided
into several districts.1 Antipas received the regions of Galilee and
Perea. Archelaus, his full brother, received Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; and
Philip, his half brother, received Iturea, Gaulinitis, Batania, Trachonitis, and
Auranitis.2 Archelaus also received the title “ethnarch” or
“ruler of a people” while Antipas was given the lesser title, “tetrarch”
(literally, “ruler of a fourth”). Augustus’s
decision “prevented either Antipas or Archelaus from being given the coveted
Galilee was the northernmost of the three
sections of western Palestine, the other two being Judea and Samaria.
Galilee was bordered on the west by the Phoenician plain; on the
northeast by Gaulanitis, on the east by the Jordan Valley, which ran both above
and below the Sea of Galilee; on the southeast by Decapolis; and on the south by
The population of Galilee was primarily Jewish, but Greeks, Itureans,
Arameans, and Phoenicians also lived there.
As a result, the Judeans viewed the Galileans as second-class Jews.
This mixture of ethnic groups may explain the distinctive speech of the
Galileans (see Acts 2:7). Jewish
religion and custom dominated the region, although the Galileans were probably
not as strict in their observance of the law as the Judeans were.
In political terms the Galileans tended to be Jewish patriots.4
Perea was the land “beyond the Jordan” (see
Matt. 4:25; 19:1). Perea was
bordered on the west by the Jordan River, on the north by Pella, on the east by
the desert, and on the south by Machaerus.
Although Perea had a mixed population, by New Testament times it was
predominantly Jewish—since the Maccabees had brought the territory under
Jewish control in the intertestamental period.
To avoid Samaria, the Jews went through Perea when traveling between
Galilee and Judea. John the Baptist
baptized in this area, and this may have
been the region where he baptized Christ (see John 3:26).5
As with many of the
descendants of Herod the Great, Antipas modeled himself after his father.
He was not as cruel as his father in spite of his treatment of John the
Baptist and Jesus. He was the ablest
ruler of all of Herod’s sons. The
Romans deposed Archelaus 10 years into his rule of Judea because his harsh rule
had provoked a great deal of unrest. The
province was turned over to a Roman governor.
Philip’s territory was less wealthy and influential, and he did not
play a very large role on the larger political scene.
Antipas, on the other hand, ruled for a lengthy period over a potentially
contentious region and kept it generally well ordered.
Part of Antipas’s success was based on his relationship with the
Roman imperial family, a relationship he developed during his youth.
His relationship with Augustus, however, is not clear, since Augustus did
not favor him in settling the testament of Herod the Great.
Antipas did have, however, a better relationship with Tiberius, who was
more of a peer. He fostered that relationship in many ways including later
naming his newly built city, Tiberias, his capital, after the Roman emperor.6
Another key to Herod Antipas’s success was that he, like his father,
Herod the Great, was a builder—though on a much smaller scale.
Like his father, Antipas focused on building cities, even though the
region in which he lived was primarily rural and agricultural.
He improved many of the region’s towns and cities, but he actually
built two significant cities. Sepphoris
was rebuilt after having been destroyed a few years earlier, and Tiberias was a
new city entirely.
Sepphoris had been an important city in the region of Galilee until it
was destroyed because of opposition to the Romans following the death of Herod
the Great. In all likelihood,
Antipas began rebuilding this city immediately upon taking power.
It was a fortress city and became the capital of the region once it was
rebuilt. Of particular interest to
biblical students is the proximity of the city to Nazareth (about four miles
away). In all probability Joseph
worked at various times in the rebuilding of the city, and perhaps the young
Jesus even accompanied him there.
Antipas renamed the city Autocratoris in honor of
the emperor, Augustus, but the name did not take hold.
The city was patterned along Greek lines and contained a theater,
elaborate water works, and fortification walls.
The city was granted a certain amount of autonomy by Antipas and
eventually minted its own coins, including that it was a substantial commercial
center for the region.7
Antipas built Tiberias about AD 26.
It became his crowning achievement and his final capital city.
The city was impressive from its inception, as its designers established
it completely along Greek lines. It
had its own government based on the Greek concept of a city with a council and a
chief official called “archon.” The
city boasted a palace, a stadium, public baths, a great assembly hall, and a
synagogue of significant size.
Early during construction at Tiberias, builders discovered an old
cemetery on the site. Devout Jews
would not work around a cemetery for fear of becoming unclean.
In spite of this opposition, Antipas was able to complete the city and
populate it. In time, the
inhabitants were predominantly Jewish.
One of Antipas’s interesting ambiguities is
evidenced in the founding of these cities. Antipas,
in some ways, demonstrated his awareness of Jewish sensitivities.
For example, the coins Antipas minted did not have his image on them.
Yet, in the palace at Tiberias and other public buildings, he decorated
the walls with paintings of animals, which violated the Second Commandment in
the eyes of observant Jews. He built
a large synagogue in Tiberias, but the stadium would have been unpopular with
Banishment and Disgrace
Antipas’s downfall came with his relationship
with Herodias. Antipas, like many of
the local rulers the Romans appointed, had married for political purposes.
His first wife was the daughter of Aretas, the Nabataean king.
The Nabataeans were a kingdom bordering Palestine outside the Roman
Empire, and the marriage was designed to foster peace in the region.
However, on a trip to Rome, Antipas became infatuated with Herodias, who
was his niece and who also was married to another half brother, Philip (not the
other tetrarch mentioned above).
Antipas persuaded Herodias to leave her husband and to go with him to
Galilee. A part of the arrangement
called for Antipas to divorce his first wife.
Antipas’s wife learned about his intention and made arrangements to
flee and to return to her father. Antipas’s
rejection of his first wife (Aretas’s daughter) as well as some unsolved
boundary disputes, created a period of hostility between Aretas and Antipas.
Eventually Aretas declared was against Antipas.
Aretas soundly defeated Antipas’s army.
Many Jews saw this a God’s punishing Antipas because he executed John
the Baptist. To restore order,
Tiberius commanded Vitellius, the governor of Syria, to intervene on the side of
Antipas. However, before that could
occur, Tiberius died. Caligula came
to the throne and Roman support for Antipas waned.9
Caligula had a friendly relationship with Herod
Agrippa I, the brother of Herodias, who was a rival of Antipas.
Agrippa had lived with Antipas earlier and had developed an active
dislike for him. Caligula appointed
Agrippa to take over the territories of his uncle Philip and gave him the title
of “king.” Herodias was upset
that her brother had received these honors while her husband, Antipas, remained
a mere “tetrarch.” She convinced
Antipas to go to Rome and petition Caligula for honors similar to those of
Meanwhile, Agrippa had suggested through a messenger to Caligula that
Antipas was plotting against the emperor and had been amassing weapons.
In fact, Antipas did have a large horde of weapons, but it is unlikely
that he was involved in any treasonous activity.
This charge gave Caligula an excuse to depose Antipas and give his
territory to Agrippa. Caligula
ordered Antipas into exile in Lugdunum (Lyons) in Gaul.
Herodias was offered the opportunity to retain her personal properties
and not go into exile with Antipas. She,
however, was genuinely loyal to Antipas and chose to go into exile with him.
Antipas, the strong leader and impressive builder, died dishonorably in
Harold W. Hoener, “Herod” in International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), vol.
2 (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Eerdmans 1982), 692.
Holman Bible Atlas (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers,
“Herod” in ISBE, vol. 2, 694.
W. Ewing, “Galilee” in ISBE, vol. 2 (Cedar
Rapids, Iowa: Eerdmans 1982), 1163-1164.
Charles H. Miller, “Perea,” Harper
Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1985).
Electronic version in Livronix.
A. H. M. Jones, The Herods of Judaea (Oxford,
University Press, 1938), 176.
Jones, 178-79; and Howard W. Hoehner, Herod
Antipas (Cambridge: University
Press, 1972), 84-87.
and Hoehner, 96-100.
Flavius Josephus, The Works of the Jews, The
Antiquities of the Jews (Hiawatha,
Iowa: Parsons Technology, 1998), 18.5.1-3.
Jones, 195-96; and Josephus,
“Antiquities,” 18.7.1-2; and “Herod” in ISBE,
vol. 2, 696.
Shawn L. Buice
L. Buice is assistant professor of New Testament and Greek, Mid-America Baptist
Theological Seminary, Northeast Branch, Schenectady, New York.
OF THE MORE POPULAR SHOWS on American TV today
is “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Suppose
you are the contestant in the hot seat and the million dollar question is “Who
was the Roman governor who presided over the trial that led to the crucifixion
and death of Jesus?” Will you
answer Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Tiberius Caesar, or Pontius Pilate?
If you choose Pontius Pilate, then you win!
Pilate was the governor of Judea at one of the most crucial moments in Christian
history. Yet strangely enough, we
know very little about him because there exists little historical information
that mentions him. For example, the
four Gospels, the Book of Acts, and 1 Timothy are the only books in which
biblical authors mention Pilate. Outside
of the Bible, we learn about him from ancient writers like Josephus, and Philo.
Furthermore, in 1961 in Caesarea Maritima, an inscription was discovered
that shows Pilate’s name and gives his title, prefect (Latin, praefectus
Iudaeae). Beyond these sources,
however, there exists practically no other primary information.
this scarcity of firsthand information mean that we cannot know anything about
Pontius Pilate? Or does it suggest
that we cannot make reasonable conclusions about him?
The answer to both of these questions in no.
Just as we solve a puzzle by joining all the pieces together, so too can
we connect the available bits of historical information about Pilate to gain a
fair understanding of who he was and how he ruled over Judea.
Taking into account all the available information, we develop the
following picture of Pilate.
Pilate’s Administration as Governor
3:1 reads, “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when
Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.”1 At this point in Luke’s
Gospel, he introduced the beginning of the ministries of both John the Baptist
and Jesus. In laying the foundation
for this introduction, Luke built on specific events to help us determine the
historical context. For example, he
included the information that Pontius Pilate had included the information that
Pontius Pilate had already taken office when both John and Jesus began their
of the lack of information in Luke 3, several questions arise: When did Pilate
become governor? What were his
duties as a governor? And How long
did he remain in office? In an
attempt to answer the first question, we may briefly trace the terms of the
governors who preceded him in office. For
instance, we know that Herod the Great was ruler of Judea from 37 B.C. until 4
B.C.2 This is the same King Herod mentioned in Matthew 2 who ruled at
the time of Jesus’ birth and who ordered the deaths
of the male babies two years old and younger (Matt. 2:1 – 3, 16).
after Jesus was born, Herod the Great died, and his kingdom was divided into
three parts. Each of the three parts
went to one of his sons. One of his
sons, Archelaus, became the ruler of Judea and Samaria.3
Unfortunately, he was not well liked by the Jewish people.
Because of this, his tenure in office was relatively short.
Archelaus served as governor from roughly 4 B.C. to after A.D. 6.
After the Roman emperor removed him from office due to the complaints of
the people, Judea was briefly a Roman colony.
During this period of time, no governor ruled Judea.
Twelve years later, by A.D. 18, Valerius Gratus govered as prefect over
Judea. At the end of his term,
Pontius Pilate began his tenure as governor or perfect over Judea in A.D. 26.4
determined that Pontius Pilate became prefect of Judea in A.D. 26, we can now
consider what Pilate’s duties were as the ruler of Judea.
Some uncertainty exists over the
precise title that applied to Pilate. For
example, was he procurator, governor, or prefect?
After examining all the historical evidence, especially the inscription
from Caesarea, you discover that the title prefect more precisely describes
Pilate’s role that other designations.5 As the prefect of Judea,
Pilate fulfilled the duties as the Roman administrator of the province.
This included acting as head of the judicial system and tax colliction.6
In addition to these tasks, Pilate was also in charge of a small military
force. This group would have
typically included several units of infantry and cavalry.7
considered the beginning of Pilate’s reign as prefect and his duties while in
office, we now turn to the final question: How long was Pilate’s term?
While there exists some uncertainty about the exact date in which Pilate
left office, most scholars agree that Pilate remained roughly 10 years in
office. The basis for this time
frame is a reference in which Josephus explicitly noted that Pilate remained 10
years in Judea.8
on the conclusion that Pilate began his term as perfect of Judea in A.D. 26, we
can determine that he left office in A.D. 36.
The length of his tenure indicates that his service must have satisfied
the Roman emperor Tiberius, because he was known to keep prefects in office for
only 3 or 4 years before terminating them. The
fact that Pilate remained in Judea for 10 years implies that he must have served
Pilate’s Relationship with the Jews
Tiberius considered Pilate a faithful prefect, this does not necessarily mean
that the Jews felt the same way. The
evidence indicates, however, that Pilate enjoyed fairly good relations with the
Jews during his tenure. In fact,
Josephus records only two major conflicts between Pilate and the Jews during his
time in office.
first conflict involved a transgression of Jewish law.
On this particular occasion, Pilate ordered a military unity from
Caesarea to Jerusalem with the intention of abolishing the Jewish laws.
This unit carried ensigns bearing the image of the emperor into the city
of Jerusalem. Since Jewish law
prohibited the making of images, the Jews were
incensed and consequently made two appeals to Pilate to remove the
images. After the first appeal,
Pilate refused to have the ensigns removed.
After the second appeal, under the
threat of execution, the Jews remained firm, showing their willingness to die.
This demonstration caused Pilate to change his mind, and he removed the
images from the city.10
second conflict arose due to Pilate’s attempt to help the Jews.
In order to increase the Jews’ water supply, Pilate planned to build an
aqueduct. To finance the project,
however, he used money from the temple treasury.
Because of this act, thousands of people demonstrated against Pilate.
On this occasion, instead of yielding to the demands of the people,
Pilate chose to use force to quiet the uprising, and many Jews lost their lives.11
Role in Jesus’ Trial
we study John 18 and 19, an interesting scene unfolds before us.
Apparently, no one wanted to handle Jesus’ case personally, In Fact,
John minutely described how Jesus was moved from place to place after His
arrest. After Judas betrayed Jesus
in the garden, John related that Jesus was first taken to Annas (John 18:12-13).
Next, we see that Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest (18:24).
Having remained with Caiaphas a short time, Jesus finally appeared before
Pilate (18:28-40). There Jesus’
appointment with death was carried out.
the initial meeting, Pilate attempted to return Jesus to the Jews so they could
deal with Him as their law mandated (18:31-32).
The Jews persuaded Pilate to continue to preside over the case because
their law did not permit the death penalty.
On three separate occasions, Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent (18:38;
19:4, 6). Again Pilate tried to release Jesus (19:12).
This last attempt also failed; and Pilate agreed to hand Jesus over to
the Jews to be crucified in order to avoid a riot (19:13-16; Matt. 27:24).
is silent about Pontius Pilate’s life after his reign over Judea.
Eusebius, an early church historian, claimed that Pilate committed
suicide in A.D. 39.12 Other historians dispute this claim.
Even though uncertainty exists regarding the final years of Pilate’s
life, one factor remains clear. Pontius Pilate, about whom very little is
recorded, impacted both history and eternity as the prefect of Judea.
Scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.
Update, unless otherwise indicated.
D. Lea, The New Testament: Its Background and Message (Nashville:
Broadman & Holman, 1996), 20.
Antiquities of the Jews, 18.2.2.
H. Hoehner, “Pontius Pilate” in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Joel
B. Green and Scot McKnight, eds. (Downers
Grove: InterVarsity Press. 1992), 615.
R. Schwartz, “Pontius Pilate” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, David
Noel Freedman, gen. ed. , vol. 5(New York: Doubleday, 1992) 397-98.
A. Lee, “Pontius Pilate” in The International Standard Bible
Many believe this incident is the same incident described briefly in Luke
inn Luke 13:1-2.
Ecclesiastical History, 2.7.
Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 2002-03.
What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia
Question Found? (11/29/15)
What was the first instance of book burning?
Answer Next Week:
The answer to last
week’s question: (11/22/15) According to the
Book of Genesis, who wore the first ring? Answer:
Pharaoh, Genesis 41:42.