Paul stood on the stairs; on the steps of the ascent to the castle, on the top of them:
and beckoned with the hand unto the people; to desire silence, which he might be able to do, notwithstanding his chains; for his being bound with a chain to a soldier, did not hinder the moving and lifting up of his hand:
and when there was made a great silence; either through the authority of the captain, who might command it, or through the desire of the people, to hear what he could say for himself:
he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue; which the people he spoke to best understood, and was his own mother tongue; the Alexandrian copy reads, "in his own dialect"; this was not pure Hebrew that was spoke in common in those times, but the Syro-Chaldean language:
saying; as in the following chapter.
hear ye my defence, which I make now unto you; in opposition to the charges brought against him, of speaking ill of the people of the Jews, the law of Moses, and of the temple, and in order to clear himself of these imputations, and vindicate his character and conduct.
they kept the more silence; it being their mother tongue, and which they best understood; and which the captain and the Roman soldiers might not so well under stand; and chiefly because the Hellenistic language was not so agreeable to them, nor the Hellenistic Jews, who spoke the Greek language, and used the Greek version of the Bible; and such an one they took Paul to be, besides his being a Christian; wherefore when they heard him speak in the Hebrew tongue, it conciliated their minds more to him, at least engaged their attention the more to what he was about to say:
and he saith; the Syriac and Ethiopic versions add, "to them", as follows.
born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia; See Gill on Acts 21:39.
yet brought up in this city; the city of Jerusalem; though Tarsus was the place of his birth, he had his education at Jerusalem:
at the feet of Gamaliel; of whom see Acts 5:34 it was the custom of scholars among the Jews, to sit at the feet of their masters, when instructed by them; see Deuteronomy 33:3 hence that saying of Jose ben Joezer (a);
"let thy house be an house of resort for the wise men, and be thou dusting thyself, , "with the dust of their feet":''
which by one of their commentators (b) is interpreted two ways, either
"as if it was said that thou shouldst walk after them; for he that walks raises the dust with his feet, and he that goes after him is filled with the dust which he raises with his feet; or else that thou shouldst sit at their feet upon the ground, for so it was usual, that the master sat upon a bench, and the scholars sat at his feet upon the floor.''
This latter sense is commonly understood, and adapted to the passage here, as illustrating it; though it may be, that the sense may only be this, that the apostle boarded in Gamaliel's house, ate at his table, and familiarly conversed with him; which he modestly expresses by being brought up at his feet, who was a man that was had in great reverence with the Jews; and this sense seems the rather to be the sense of the passage, since his learning is expressed in the next clause; and since; till after Gamaliel's time, it was not usual for scholars to sit when they learned; for the tradition is (c), that
"from the times of Moses to Rabban Gamaliel, they (the scholars) did not learn the law but standing; after Rabban Gamaliel died, sickness came into the world, and they learned the law sitting; and hence it is said, that after Rabban Gamaliel died, the glory of the law ceased.''
and taught according to the perfect law of the fathers; not the law which the Jewish fathers received from Moses, though Paul was instructed in this, but in the oral law, the "Misna", or traditions of the elders, in which he greatly profited, and exceeded others, Galatians 1:14.
And was zealous towards God; or "a zealot of God"; one of those who were called "Kanaim", or zealots; who in their great zeal for the glory of God, took away the lives of men, when they found them guilty of what they judged a capital crime; see Matthew 10:4. The Vulgate Latin version reads, "zealous of the law"; both written and oral, the law of Moses, and the traditions of the fathers:
as ye all are this day; having a zeal for God, and the law, but not according to knowledge.
(a) Misn. Pirke Abot, c. 1. sect. 4. (b) Bartenora in Misn. Piske Abot, c. 1. sect. 4. (c) T. Bab. Megilla, fol. 21. 1. Vid. Misn. Sota, c. 9. sect. 15.
binding and delivering into prisons, both men and women: see Acts 8:3.
and all the estate of the elders; the whole Jewish sanhedrim, for this character respects not men in years, but men in office, and such who were members of the high court of judicature in Jerusalem;
from whom also I received letters unto the brethren; some render it "against the brethren", as if the Christians were meant; whereas the apostle intends the Jews of the synagogue at Damascus, whom the apostle calls brethren; because they were of the same nation, and his kinsmen according to the flesh; and, at that time, of the same religion and principles with him; and this is put out of doubt, by the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, which render it, "the brethren that were at Damascus": and these letters were to recommend him to them, and to empower him to persecute the Christians, and to demand and require their assistance in it; the Ethiopic version calls them, "letters of power"; and it seems from hence, that these letters were received from the whole sanhedrim, as well as from the high priest, and were signed by both:
and went to Damascus to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished: with stripes, or with death, as they should be judged worthy; see Acts 9:2.
and was come nigh unto Damascus; about a mile from it, as some say,
about noon; this circumstance is omitted in the account in Acts 9:3 and is mentioned here, not so much to inform what time of day it was, that Saul came to Damascus, as to observe how extraordinary that light must be, which then appeared, as follows:
suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me; and not only about him, but those that were with him, Acts 26:13. This must be a great light indeed, to be distinguished at noon, and to be above the brightness of the sun, and to have such effect upon the apostle and his company as it had; Acts 9:3.
And heard a voice, saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? See Gill on Acts 9:4.
and were afraid; the Alexandrian copy, the Vulgate Latin, and Syriac versions, have not this clause; but it stands in the Arabic and Ethiopic versions; the suddenness, greatness, and extraordinariness of the light surprised them, for it was even miraculous:
but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me: they heard the voice of Saul, but not the voice of Christ; at least they did not hear it so as to understand it; See Gill on Acts 9:7.
being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came unto Damascus but not with the same view he set out with: he took his journey thither, and pursued it, in order to persecute the saints there; but now he enters into it, to be informed by one of them what he must do for Christ, whom he had persecuted.
Having a good report of all the Jews that dwelt there: that is, at Damascus, as the Ethiopic version reads; and so do the Complutensian edition, the Alexandrian copy, and several other copies; for though he was a Christian, yet being not only a man of an unblemished life and conversation, but zealous and devout in the observance of the ceremonial law, was very much interested in the affections and esteem of the Jews.
and said unto me, brother Saul; See Gill on Acts 9:17.
receive thy sight, "or look up",
and the same hour I looked up upon him; that is, immediately, directly: for so the phrase, "that same hour", is frequently used by the Jews: the words in Numbers 16:21 "that I may consume them in a moment", are rendered by Onkelos, "that I may consume them in an hour"; for an hour is used for a moment with them.
that thou shouldest know his will; his revealed will, concerning the salvation of men by Jesus Christ, which is no other than the Gospel, of which the apostle had been entirely ignorant; for though he knew the will of God, as revealed in the law, or his will of command, yet not spiritually; and he was altogether a stranger, till now, to God's will, way, and method of saving sinners by Christ, of justifying them by his righteousness, and of pardoning their sins through his blood, and of giving them eternal life by him; and the knowledge of this he came at by the spirit of wisdom and revelation, in consequence of his being chosen and called:
and see that just One: Jesus Christ the righteous, who is both as he is God, and as he is man, and also as he is Mediator, having faithfully discharged his office, and performed his engagements; him the apostle saw, both with the eyes of his body, when he met him in the way, and called unto him, and with the eyes of his understanding beholding his beauty, fulness, and suitableness as a Saviour; the former of these was what many kings, prophets, and righteous men desired: and the latter is what is inseparably connected with eternal life and salvation.
And shouldest hear the voice of his mouth; both his human voice in articulate sounds, when he spoke to him in the Hebrew tongue, as in Acts 22:7 and the voice of his Gospel, of which he appeared to make him a minister; which is a voice of love, grace, and mercy, of peace, pardon, righteousness, and salvation, and is very powerful when accompanied by the Spirit, and is soul charming, alluring, and comforting.
of what thou hast seen and heard; as that he saw him personally and alive, and so could witness to the truth of his resurrection; for after he had been seen by all the apostles, he was last of all seen of Paul; and also, that he heard him and received from him the Gospel, and a mission and commission to preach it; for what he preached he did not receive of man, nor was he taught it by any, but he had it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
arise, and be baptized; this shows that Ananias was a Christian, since he directs to an ordinance of Christ, and that he was a preacher of the word, and had a right to administer baptism; for that it was administered by him, though not in express terms yet seems to be naturally concluded from Acts 9:18 as also this passage shows, that baptism was not administered by sprinkling, since Saul might have sat still, and have had some water brought to him, and sprinkled on him; but by immersion, seeing he is called upon to arise, and go to some place proper and convenient for the administration of it, according to the usage of John, and the apostles of Christ. "And wash away thy sins"; or "be washed from thy sins"; not that it is in the power of man to cleanse himself from his sins; the Ethiopian may as soon change his skin, or the leopard his spots, as a creature do this; nor is there any such efficacy in baptism as to remove the filth of sin; persons may submit unto it, and yet be as Simon Magus was, in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity; but the ordinance of baptism, may be, and sometimes is, a means of leading the faith of God's children to the blood of Christ, which cleanses from all sin;
calling on the name of the Lord; the name of the Lord is not only to be used by the administrator of baptism in the performance of it; but it should be called upon by the person who submits to it, both before and at the administration of it, for the presence of Christ in it; and this invocation of the name of the Lord in baptism, signifies an exercise of faith in Christ at this time, a profession of him, and obedience to him.
even while I prayed in the temple; the temple was an house of prayer; hither persons resorted for that purpose; and as the apostle had been used to it, he continued this custom, and during the time of prayer he fell into an ecstasy:
I was in a trance: and knew not whether he was in the body, or out of the body: whether this was the time he refers to in 2 Corinthians 12:2 is not certain, though probable.
make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: not because his life was in danger, but because Christ had work for him to do elsewhere, which required haste; and that he might not continue here useless and unprofitable, as he would have been, had he staid;
for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me; Christ the omniscient God, and the searcher of the hearts, knew the hardness and unbelief of the Jews; and that they would continue therein, notwithstanding the ministry of the apostle; and that they would give no credit to any testimony of his, that he saw him, as he went to Damascus, and heard words from his mouth. The Ethiopic version renders it without the negative, "for they will receive thee, my witness concerning me"; as if Christ sent the apostle away in all haste from Jerusalem, lest he preaching there, the Jews should believe and be healed; compare with this Matthew 13:14. Very likely this interpreter might be induced to leave out the negative, as thinking that the apostle's reasoning in the following words required such a sense and reading.
and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee; in Jerusalem there were many synagogues, and in these scourging and beating of offenders were used; See Gill on Matthew 10:17.
I also was standing by; to see the inhuman action performed; nor was he an idle and indifferent spectator:
and consenting unto his death; being pleased and delighted with it, and rejoicing at it; see Acts 8:1.
and kept the raiment of them that slew him; the accusers of him, and witnesses against him, whose hands were first on him, and cast the first stones at him, and continued to stone him, until they killed him: these laid their garments at the feet of Saul, who looked after them, that nobody stole them, and run away with them, whilst they were stoning Stephen; which shows how disposed he was to that fact, and how much he approved of it: and these things he mentions to suggest that surely the Jews would receive his testimony, since they knew what a bitter enemy he had been to this way: and therefore might conclude, that he must have some very good and strong reasons, which had prevailed upon him to embrace this religion against all his prejudices, and so might be willing to hear them; and it also shows what an affection the apostle had for the Jews, and how much he desired their spiritual welfare, for which reason he chose to have stayed, and preached among them.
for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles; to the nations afar off, even as far as Illyricum, Pannonia, or Hungary, where the apostle went and preached, Romans 15:19 and so by a divine mission and commission he became the apostle of the Gentiles, and preached the Gospel among them with great success, to the conversion of many thousands of them, and to the planting of many churches in the midst of them.
and then lift up their voices; in a very loud and clamorous manner, as one man:
and said, away with such a fellow from the earth; take away his life from the earth: this they said either to the chief captain, to do it, or as encouraging one another to do it:
for it is not fit that he should live; he does not deserve to live, he is unworthy of life; it is not agreeable to the rules of justice that he should be spared; it is not convenient, and it may be of bad consequence should he be continued any longer; he may do a deal of mischief, and poison the minds of the people with bad notions, and therefore it is not expedient that he should live.
and cast off their clothes; either like madmen, that knew not what they did, or in order to stone him; see Acts 7:57.
and threw dust into the air either with their hands, or by striking the earth, and scraping it with their feet, through indignation and wrath, like persons possessed, or mad.
and bade that he should be examined by scourging; he gave a centurion, with some soldiers, orders to scourge and whip him, and to lay on stripes more and harder, until he should tell the whole truth of the matter, and confess the crime or crimes he was guilty of, which had so enraged the populace:
that he might know wherefore they cried so against him; for though he had rescued him out of their hands, when they would in all likelihood have beat him to death; and though he took him within the castle to secure him from their violence; yet he concluded he must be a bad man, and must have done something criminal; and therefore he takes this method to extort from him a confession of his crime, for which the people exclaimed against him with so much virulence.
Paul said unto the centurion that stood by; to see the soldiers execute the orders received from the chief captain:
is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? Though the apostle puts this by way of question, yet he knew full well what the Roman laws were in such cases; he did not put this through ignorance, or for information, but to let them know who he was, and to put them in mind of these laws, and of their duty; for, according to the Porcian law, Roman citizens were not to be beaten (h). Hence, says (i) Cicero,
"it is a heinous sin to bind a Roman citizen, it is wickedness to beat him, it is next to parricide to kill him, and what shall I say to crucify him?''
And, according to the Valerian law, it was not lawful for magistrates to condemn a Roman without hearing the cause, and pleading in it; and such condemned persons might appeal to the populace (k).
(d) Lipsius de Cruce, l. 2. c. 4. (e) Misna Maccot, c. 3. sect. 12, 13. (f) Bartenora in ib. (g) Yom Tob in ib. (h) Cicero pro Rabirio Orat. 18. (i) In Verrem Orat. 10. (k) Pompon. Laetus de Legibus, p. 157.
he went and told the chief captain; what Paul had said: saying, take heed what thou dost; or "art about to do"; lest some bad consequences should follow; lest he should affront the Roman people and senate, and lose his place, if not incur some corporeal punishment:
for this man is a Roman; and it can never be answered to bind and beat a Roman.
tell me, art thou a Roman? he had told him before that he was a Jew of Tarsus, and which was true, and had said nothing of his being a Roman; wherefore the chief captain desires that he would tell him the whole truth of the matter, whether he was a Roman or not:
he said yea; that he was one.
and Paul said, but I was free born; being born at Tarsus; which, as Pliny says (l), was a free city, and which had its freedom given it by Mark Antony, and which was before the birth of Paul; and therefore his parents being of this city, and free, he was born so.
(l) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 27.
and the chief captain also was afraid after he knew that he was a Roman; lest he should be called to an account for his conduct, and his commission should be taken from him: chiefly,
and because he had bound him; not only had commanded him to be bound with thongs to a pillar, in order to be scourged, but he had bound him with two chains, when first seized him; and, as before observed; see Gill on Acts 22:25; it was a heinous crime to bind a Roman.