SUMMARY.--Paul Speaks in Hebrew to the People. His Jewish Birth at Tarsus. His Education at the Feet of Gamaliel. His Persecution of the Church. The Appearance of Christ to Him on the Way to Damascus. His Baptism. The Vision of the Lord in the Temple. Sent to the Gentiles. The Interruption of the Mob. Appeals to His Rights as a Roman.
1-3. Spake in the Hebrew tongue. The tongue called the Hebrew, a dialect of the ancient Hebrew, and distinguished from it by the name Aramaic. It was the common language of Judea in the time of Christ. It would be understood by all Paul's Jewish hearers, while many could not understand Greek. I am a Jew. In order to refute their charge that he taught against Moses, he calls attention to his Jewish birth, and his education under their venerated doctor of the law, Gamaliel. For the character of this teacher, See notes on 5:34. Was zealous toward God. His zeal was like theirs, honest, and ardent. Observe how he associates himself with his hearers. It was the first opportunity he had ever had to explain to the people of Jerusalem the reason why he had become a Christian.
4, 5. I persecuted this way. He did this from his zeal towards God, whom he thought he thus served. Unto the death. This seems to imply that Stephen was not the only martyr in whose death he was an accomplice. The high priest doth bear me witness. The high priest in A. D. 37, the time Saul of Tarsus was sent to Damascus, was not now high priest, having been deposed by the Romans, but was probably a member of the Sanhedrim at this time. It is also probable that the present high priest personally knew about all facts. There were many present who knew that he had been a commissioned persecutor.
6-11. Nigh unto Damascus about noon. See notes on 9:3-10, where the account of Paul's conversion is given. There the time of day is not mentioned. The light appeared when the sun was at its brightest, and was brighter than the sun (26:13). Saul, Saul. The Voice spoke in the Hebrew tongue (26:14). Why persecutest thou me? By persecuting those for whom Christ died. Heard not the voice. Some have insisted that there is a contradiction between this statement and that of 9:7, but the word hear is often used in the sense of "understand." Once the writer heard Abraham Lincoln address a great audience. Some, at a distance, cried out, "We cannot hear." They meant understand, for they could hear the sound of his voice. I could not see for the glory of that light. In chapter 9 we are told that he was blinded, but not the cause.
12-16. One Ananias, a devout man. In the account of 9:10 we are told he was a disciple. Though a disciple, he kept the law strictly. The God of our fathers. Of the Jews. See that Just One. The Lord Jesus Christ. It was necessary that Paul should see the Lord in order to become a witness. He refers more than once to the fact that he had seen the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). Arise, and be baptized. Dean Howson (Acts, p. 501) says that the verb "baptize" in the Greek is in the middle voice, and that a more accurate rendering would be, "Have thyself baptized." Wash away thy sins. This language shows that Ananias thought that the penitent sinner was to be baptized for the remission of sins (2:38), and that Paul held the same view. Compare Titus 3:5. Hackett says: "This clause states the result of baptism in language derived from the nature of the ordinance. It answers to eis aphesin hamartion (2:38), i. e., submit to the rite in order to be forgiven. . . . There can be no question of the mode of baptism in this case, for if it be held that be baptized is uncertain in its meaning, wash away is a definition that removes the doubt." As the final act of conversion, baptism symbolically, is said to wash away sins.
17-21. When I was come again to Jerusalem. This was three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:17, 18). He shows in what follows that it was by Divine direction that he had devoted his life to the conversion of the Gentiles, that he would have labored with his own race, but that, while in the temple praying, he had a second vision of the Lord who, a second time, assured him that his work was with the Gentiles. In a trance. Greek, "An ecstasy," a state of mind when the spirit was, as it were, lifted out of the bodily conditions and enabled to discern things unseen. Compare 10:10. Some have held that this trance in the temple is described in 2 Cor. 12:2, 3, but this is uncertain. They will not receive thy testimony. His own countrymen are meant. They regarded him as an apostate. Lord, they know. He recalls the very words of his prayer to show his anxiety to labor with his own race. When the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed. See 7:58 and 8:1. Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. Thus by the command of his Lord his life-work was placed beyond the pale of Israel.
22, 23. They gave him audience unto this word. To the statement that the Lord sent him to the Gentiles. This at once filled them with fury. Amid their long sufferings from foreign oppressors, the Jew took comfort in the thought that when his Messiah came the Gentile would be abased and the Jew would put his feet upon his neck. Hence, nothing so stirred their passions as an intimation that Christ would be a Savior to the Gentiles. In his own synagogue of Nazareth, when the Lord declared the salvation of the Gentiles, his own townsmen sought to put him to death. We have seen the struggle in the infant church before it would receive Gentiles without circumcision. At this time, the smothered fires of the great Jewish war, that broke out a few years later, were burning in Jewish hearts. Hence, the statement that Paul's Christ was a Savior of the Gentiles, and had commanded him to pass by the Jews and offer salvation to the Gentiles, at once produced an explosion of frantic rage. Cast off their clothes, and threw dust. Manifestations of an uncontrolled fury that hardly knew what it did.
24-30. Bade that he be examined by scourging. Probably ignorant of the Hebrew tongue, unable to understand what had caused the fury of the people, thinking that it might be due to the commission of some horrible crime by the speaker, the chief captain, drawing him into the castle, ordered that he be put to the torture to compel him to make a confession. Until recent times, it was common to torture prisoners under the belief that thus they could be compelled to speak the truth. Scourging was the usual method of torture among the Romans. The prisoner's back was bared, he was bound, and the rods borne by the lictors were usually employed. Paul said to the centurion. Who was seeing that the chief captain's orders were carried out. Is it lawful to scourge a Roman? Once before at Philippi (16:37) he had appealed to his rights as a Roman, but this was after the scourging. The name Roman acted like magic in each case. The centurion at once pauses, tell his commander to beware; no officer dared to lay a hand in violence on a Roman citizen without trial. The claim was at once allowed, for it was a capital offense to make a false claim of citizenship, and none dared attempt it. "He who falsely pretended to Roman citizenship was beheaded on the Esquiline hill."--Suetonius. A constant traveler like Paul would be likely to carry papers that would prove his claims. Art thou a Roman? The commander comes at once to inquire for himself. The officer states that he had bought citizenship himself. He was not of Roman birth, an alien, but by a heavy bribe had obtained Roman rights. This was not uncommon in the corrupt period of Roman government that had come. But I was free born. His father before had been a Roman citizen. Whether he inherited it also, or had in some way secured the right, is unknown. If any wonder how a Jew could be a Roman, let them look around and see Jews, Germans, Irish, etc., who are American citizens. The chief captain was afraid. Because he had bound Paul for the torture, and had thus violated the privileges of Roman citizenship. On the morrow. Perplexed concerning the animosity of his countrymen to Paul, anxious to know whether he was a malefactor, he ordered a meeting of the Sanhedrim that it might investigate the charges against him.