(1) And the apostles and brethren that were in Judæa . . .—The context implies that the tidings travelled, while Peter remained at Cæsarea, first probably to Joppa and Lydda, and afterwards to Jerusalem.
As on us at the beginning.—The words are spoken, it will be remembered, to apostles and disciples who had been sharers in the Pentecostal gift. St. Peter bears his witness that what he witnessed at Cæsarea was not less manifestly the Spirit’s work than what they had then experienced.
Unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.—The Greek construction gives a somewhat different meaning: If then God gave to them an equal gift as to us, upon their believing . . . That condition was sufficient in their case for the greater gifts, and their admissibility to baptism and to general fellowship followed naturally as a thing of course.
What was I, that I could withstand God?—The Greek gives a complex question, Who was I? Able to withstand God?—i.e., How was I, being such a one as I am, able to withstand?
The persecution that arose about Stephen.—The MSS. vary in their reading, some giving the case which would be rendered by “the persecution in the time of Stephen;” some, that which answers to the persecution upon or against or after Stephen. The death of the martyr was followed, as Acts 8:1-4 shows, by a general outburst of fanaticism against the disciples, and this led to a comparatively general flight. It was probable, in the nature of the case, that the Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews who had been associated with Stephen would be the chief sufferers. Philip we have traced in Samaria and Cæsarea; others went to Phœnice, i.e., to the cities of Tyre and Sidon and Ptolemais, and were probably the founders of the churches which we find there in Acts 21:4-7; Acts 27:3. In Cyprus (see Note on Acts 13:4, for an account of the island) they prepared the way for the work of Barnabas and Paul.
And Antioch.—We have here the first direct point of contact between the Church of Christ and the great Syrian capital which was for so many years one of its chief centres. We may, perhaps, think of the proselyte of Antioch (Acts 6:5) who had been one of Stephen’s colleagues as one of those who brought the new faith to his native city. It was, as the sequel shows, a moment of immense importance. Situated on the Orontes, about fifteen miles from the port of Seleucia, the city, founded by Seleucus Nicator, and named after his father Antiochus, had grown in wealth and magnificence till it was one of the “eyes” of Asia. Its men of letters and rhetoricians (among them the poet Archias, in whose behalf Cicero made one of his most memorable orations) had carried its fame to Rome itself, and the Roman Satirist complained that the Syrian Orontes had polluted his native Tiber with the tainted stream of luxury and vice (Juvenal, Sat. iii. 62-64). It had a large colony of Jews, and Herod the Great had courted the favour of its inhabitants by building a marble colonnade which ran the whole length of the city. It became the head-quarters of the Prefect or President of Syria, and the new faith was thus brought into more direct contact with the higher forms of Roman life than it had been at Jerusalem or Cæsarea. There also it came into more direct conflict with heathenism in its most tempting and most debasing forms. The groves of Daphne, in the outskirts of the city, were famous for a worship which in its main features resembled that of Aphrodite at Corinth. An annual festival was held, known as the Maiuma, at which the harlot-priestesses, stripped of clothing, disported themselves in the waters of a lake. The city was stained with the vices of a reckless and shameless sensuality. It was as one of the strongholds of Satan; and we have to trace, as it were, the stages of the victory which transformed it into the mother-church of the Gentiles.
Preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.—Better, as answering to the singular number in the Greek, to no one. This was, of course, to be expected in the work of those who had left Jerusalem before the conversion of Cornelius had ruled the case otherwise. The fact is stated, apparently, in contrast both with the narrative that precedes and the statement that immediately follows.
Spake unto the Grecians.—The MSS. present the two readings—Hellenistæ Greek-speaking Jews, and Hellenes, Greeks or Gentiles by descent. As far as their authority is concerned, the two stand nearly on the same level, the balance inclining slightly in favour of Hellenistæ, which is found in MSS. B and D, while A gives Hellenes. The Sinaitic has the almost incomprehensible reading “they spake unto the Evangelistœ,” which is obviously wrong, but which, so far as it goes, must be thrown into the scale in favour of Hellenistæ, as the word which the transcriber had before him, and which he misread or misheard. If we receive that reading, then we must suppose St. Luke to lay stress upon the fact that the preachers of whom he speaks, instead of speaking to the Jews at large, many of whom, being Syrians, would speak Aramaic, addressed themselves specially to the Greek-speaking Jews and proselytes, and were thus following in St. Stephen’s footsteps, and indirectly preparing the way for St. Paul—the Hellenistæ being, as a body, the link between the Jews as a race and the Hellenes. On the whole, however, internal evidence seems to turn the scale in favour of the other reading. (1) As the Hellenistæ were “Jews,” though not “Hebrews,” they would naturally be included in the statement of Acts 11:19, and so there would be no contrast, no new advance, indicated in Acts 11:20 in the statement that the word was spoken to them. (2) The contrast between Jews and Hellenes is, on the other hand, as in Acts 14:1; Acts 18:4, a perfectly natural and familiar one, and assuming this to be the true reading, we get a note of progress which otherwise we should miss, there being no record elsewhere of the admission of the Gentiles at Antioch. (3) It does not necessarily follow, however, that the Hellenes who are spoken of had been heathen idolaters up to the time of their conversion. Probably, as in Acts 18:4, they were more or less on the same level as Cornelius, proselytes of the gate, attending the services of the synagogue. (4) The question whether this preceded or followed the conversion of Cornelius is one which we have not sufficient data for deciding. On the one hand, the brief narrative of Acts 11:19 suggests the thought of an interval as long as that between the death of Stephen and St. Peter’s visit to Cæsarea, and it may have been part of the working of God’s providence that there should be simultaneous and parallel advances. On the other, the language of those of the circumcision to Peter in Acts 11:3, implies that they had not heard of such a case before; and that of the Apostle himself, in Acts 15:7, distinctly claims the honour of having been the first (possibly, however, only the first among the disciples at Jerusalem) from whose lips the Gentiles, as such, had heard the word of the gospel. On the whole, therefore, it seems probable that the work went on at Antioch for many months among the Hellenistic and other Jews, and that the men of Cyprus and Cyrene arrived after the case of Cornelius had removed the scruples which had hitherto restrained them from giving full scope to the longings of their heart. We must not forget, however, that there was one to whom the Gospel of the Uncircumcision, the Gospel of Humanity, had been already revealed in its fulness (Acts 20:21; Galatians 1:11-12), and we can hardly think of him as waiting, after that revelation, for any decision of the Church of Jerusalem. His action, at any rate, must have been parallel and independent, and may have been known to, and followed by, other missionaries.
Preaching the Lord Jesus.—As before, preaching the glad tidings of the Lord Jesus.
With purpose of heart.—The preacher had seen the grace of God, and had rejoiced at it; but he knew, as all true teachers know, that it is possible for man’s will to frustrate that grace, and that its co-operation, as manifested in deliberate and firm resolve, was necessary to carry on the good work to its completion. The word for “purpose” meets us again in Acts 27:13.
They would cleave unto the Lord.—The noun is probably used in its dominant New Testament sense, as pointing to the Lord Jesus as the new object of the faith and love of those who had turned to Him.
Full of the Holy Ghost.—This was implied in his very name as “the Son of Prophecy” (see Note on Acts 4:31); but it is interesting to note that the words are identical with those in which the historian had previously described Stephen (Acts 6:5). Barnabas appeared to him to reproduce the mind and character of the martyr.
Much people.—Literally, a great multitude, implying a large increase upon the work related in Acts 11:21.
Throughout all the world.—Literally, the inhabited earth, used, as in Luke 2:1; Luke 4:5, and elsewhere in the New Testament, for the Roman empire.
Which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar.—The reign of Caligula lasted from A.D. 37-41, that of Claudius from A.D. 41-54. The whole reign of the latter emperor was memorable for frequent famines (Suetonius, Claud. 28; Tacitus, Ann. xii. 43). Josephus (Ant. xx. 5) speaks of one as specially affecting Judæa and Syria, under the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus, A.D. 45. The population of Jerusalem were reduced to great distress, and were chiefly relieved by the bounty of Helena, Queen of Adiabene, who sent in large supplies of corn, figs, and other articles of food. She was herself a proselyte to Judaism, and was the mother of Izates, whose probable conversion to the faith of Christ by Ananias of Damascus is mentioned in the Note on Acts 9:10. The title of “Cæsar” is omitted in the better MSS.
Determined to send relief.—The Greek gives the more specific to send as a ministration, the half-technical word which St. Paul uses in Romans 15:31; 2 Corinthians 9:1.
It may be noted that this visit to Jerusalem has been identified by some writers with that of which the Apostle speaks in Galatians 2:1. It will be shown, however, in the Notes on Acts 15 that it is far more likely that he speaks of the journey there narrated. St. Luke would hardly have passed over the facts to which St. Paul refers, had they occurred on this occasion; nor are there any signs that the Pharisaic party had at this time felt strong enough to insist on the circumcision of the Gentile converts. It is probable that the journey would be timed so as to coincide with one of the Jewish festivals, and judging by the analogy of St. Paul’s other visits, we may think of this as coinciding with that of Pentecost. (See Notes on Acts 18:21; Acts 20:16.)