Exploring the Book of Acts Chapter 4
The Jerusalem Ministry of Peter and John
Acts 3:1-4:22, continued
Sadducees vs. apostles (4:1-2)
Luke now begins to develop an important theme of Acts: the reason for and extent of the Jewish opposition to the gospel message. He tells how the apostles and evangelists who preached about Christ came into conflict with the Jewish religious leaders, first in Jerusalem and then in other major cities of the Roman Empire. As chapter 4 begins, a group of priests and Sadducees enter the scene and interrupt Peter’s speech. (John is mentioned six times in this chapter as participating in the events, but Luke doesn’t record a word of what John said.)
The religious leaders are accompanied by “the captain of the temple guard,” and probably some of his policemen (4:1). The captain and his officers (who were Levites) patrolled the temple grounds and kept order in the temple precincts. For example, they would make sure that no Gentile entered the parts of the temple forbidden to Gentiles. They guarded the temple gates and treasures. The captain, a priest, was an influential person and was next in rank to the high priest. [Josephus, Wars 2:409-10; 6:294.]
The Sadducees, one of the sects or divisions of Judaism, are mentioned three times in Acts (4:1; 5:17; 23:6-8). Most of the high priestly families belonged to this religious party. Every high priest from the reign of Herod until the war of A.D. 66-70 were Sadducees. The high priests held their position by the permission of the Roman government, and they benefited from the status quo. Hence they collaborated with the Roman authorities, and were opposed to any religious or national movement that might threaten their position (John 11:47-48). They were descended from the Hasmoneans [The Hasmoneans were Jewish priest-kings who successfully rebelled against the Seleucid Empire and ruled an independent Jewish kingdom 140-63 b.c.] , and looked back to them as the family who inaugurated the Messianic Age. [Jubilees 23:23-30; 31:9-20; 1 Maccabees 14:4-15, 41.]
The Sadducees claimed to be guardians of orthodoxy and they opposed innovative teachings. They refused to speculate about angels or demons, and refused to accept the doctrine of the resurrection (Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8). Josephus gives us important details about how this sect’s theology differed from that of the Pharisees. [Josephus, Wars 2:119, 164-166; Antiquities 13:171-173, 297-298; 18:11, 16-17. There is no surviving evidence from the Sadducees themselves about their beliefs; they were apparently all killed in the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70.]
Given the position and beliefs of the Sadducees, it’s easy to understand why they opposed Jesus and brought about his death. They wrongly perceived him as a revolutionary who would bring reprisals from Rome on the religious leaders and the nation (John 11:48). Not only that, Jesus seemed to be encouraging a fundamental change in the function of the temple (Luke 19:45-48; John 4:21, 23). The Sadducees thought they had gotten rid of Jesus by having him crucified. But here were his followers — the apostles — teaching about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead (4:2). It’s no wonder the Sadducees are exasperated.
For one thing, the apostles are “teaching the people.” The Sadducees thought that teaching should be done only by people who were specially trained and authorized. In their eyes, the apostles are teaching a heresy (the resurrection). To make matters worse, Peter and John are encouraging people to become followers of Jesus, whom the leaders had only recently succeeded in getting out of the way.
To put a stop to this situation, the Sadducees order the temple police to seize Peter and John. The Roman government allowed the Jews limited jurisdiction over temple matters, and this included imprisoning and punishing people who violate its regulations. Because it was late in the day (4:3), the fate of the apostles could not be immediately decided, so they were held in the jail administered by the temple police. In spite of being interrupted in their preaching, the apostles’ message found fertile ground, and many believed the message about Jesus. Luke says “the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand” (4:4).
Luke probably does not mean that 5,000 men were converted that day. Rather, Luke is saying that the believers now totaled about 5,000 men. [Luke used the Greek word andron, which refers specifically to adult males, as opposed to anthropon, which would mean “people.”] The congregation would have included several thousand women and children, too (see Matthew 14:21), perhaps totaling about 20,000. Some commentators say that this figure seems to be way out of proportion to the population of Jerusalem at the time. Estimates of Jerusalem’s population range between 25,000 and 250,000. [Josephus claimed it was over 2.5 million, but this is thought to be far too high (Wars 2:280-283; 6:420-427).]
It’s doubtful that we can fix Jerusalem’s population with any certainty. Doubting Luke’s figure on the basis of dubious population estimates seems pointless. Perhaps Jerusalem’s population was larger than suspected, or a larger portion of the city was converted than assumed. It’s also possible that Luke’s estimate of the number of believers included the country districts and surrounding villages.
Sanhedrin meets (4:5-6)
The next day, the council of Jewish religious and civic elders met to decide what to do with Peter and John (4:5). The Sadducees may have been the official rulers over Jewish affairs, but they were a minority party. They could govern only through the Sanhedrin (synedrion, “council”), the supreme court and senate. Though the Sadducees made up the majority on the council, Josephus tells us they often had to defer to Pharisaic opinion. [Josephus, Antiquities 18:16-17; Acts 5:34.] That’s because the Sadducees were disliked by the common people, while the Pharisees were held in high regard.
The Sanhedrin was composed of three groups of people. The first were the rulers, the high priests. The second were the elders, men of high community standing. The third group was composed of teachers of the law, usually Pharisees or scribes. The Sanhedrin had 71 members. It included the high priest and 70 other influential members of the Jewish religious community. The Sanhedrin had jurisdiction in cases involving matters relevant to Jewish affairs. Where capital punishment was to be administered, the Sanhedrin was required to receive the permission of the Roman procurator (John 18:31).
Luke makes the point that the Sadducean element that was about to condemn the apostles was heavily represented in the Sanhedrin. The early opponents to the gospel message came mainly from the priestly and Sadducean ranks (5:26). Annas the high priest was there, as well as Caiaphas, John, Alexander and other men of the high priest’s family (4:6). Annas was high priest for nine years, from A.D. 6-15. He continued to have great influence for many years after his years in office were over. The New Testament writers show him to be the real power behind the scenes (Luke 3:2; John 18:13-24).
Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas. He was high priest for 18 years (A.D. 18-36). He had the title of high priest when the events of Acts 4 took place. But Annas was of such influence that he seemed to be making the important decisions. Annas, though he did not then have the title of high priest, may have (as the head of the family) retained the presidency of the Sanhedrin. The ruling high priest was usually the president. [Acts 5:17; 7:1; 9:1; 22:5; 23:2, 4; 24:1.] Whatever the case, Luke calls Annas the high priest, perhaps in the sense of a high priest emeritus (4:6). Annas is making the decisions the high priest would make, at least as Sanhedrin president. Now, he and the other Sanhedrin members are about to judge the apostles.
By what power? (4:7)
As people interested in political power, it is not strange that the Sanhedrin members ask Peter and John: “By what power or what name did you do this?” (4:7). In other words, “Who said you could do this — who is your leader?”
The apostles are faced with the same issue as Jesus had been. Jesus had also been teaching at the temple when he was confronted by the same general group of chief priests and teachers of the law. They had asked Jesus: “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things…” (Luke 20:1-2). Now, months later, the priests and teachers are faced with “the Jesus question” all over again, even though the ringleader had been killed.
The Sanhedrin is not too pleased with the apostles, but on what grounds are they to punish Peter and John? They can’t accuse the apostles of faking a healing. The evidence of the lame man jumping and leaping is incontrovertible. He is known by everyone, for he was over 40 years old, and had been begging at the temple for many years (4:22). His sudden loss of lameness can’t be explained away as a delusion or secret healing process. Perhaps the apostles have an unlawful agenda in mind (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Perhaps they are healing through the power of the devil. This is what Jesus was accused of doing (Luke 11:14-20). Thus, the Sanhedrin’s question: “By what power or what name did you do this?” (4:7).
There is an irony in the apostles’ arrest. Peter and John are arrested for teaching about Jesus’ resurrection, but they are questioned about the healing. The Sanhedrin did not want to discuss the resurrection of Jesus, partly because Pharisees were a significant minority of the Sanhedrin, and they believed in a resurrection. Although they did not believe that Jesus had been resurrected, they couldn’t disprove it. Too many strange events surrounding Jesus’ life and death — including the empty tomb — would be sure to come up if they opened up this can of worms. F.F. Bruce wrote:
It is particularly striking that neither on this nor on any subsequent occasion did the authorities take any serious action to disprove the apostles’ central affirmation — the resurrection of Jesus. Had it seemed possible to refute them on this point, how eagerly would the opportunity have been seized!… The body of Jesus had vanished so completely that all the resources at their command could not produce it. The disappearance of his body, to be sure, was far from proving his resurrection, but the production of his body would have effectively disproved it. [Bruce, The Book of Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Rev. ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 96.]
Healed by the name of Jesus (4:8-10)
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answers the Sanhedrin’s questions and accusations by facing the council with the reality of a glorified Christ. This recalls Jesus’ saying, that when they are brought before kings and governors, he will give them a wisdom none of their adversaries can gainsay (Luke 21:12-15).
Peter denies that he and John perform magic, or that they are involved with evil spirits, or that the cure was a hoax. The man was healed by the “name of Jesus Christ,” pure and simple (4:10). Peter pulls no punches, and he accuses the leaders of being responsible for Jesus’ death. He again insists that Jesus had been resurrected, and it is through his power that the lame beggar was healed. In short, Peter’s speech became another declaration of Jesus’ messiahship.
The “stone” rejected (4:11-12)
Peter next cites an Old Testament scripture as a “proof-text” that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected…” (Psalm 118:22). Jesus used the same scripture to refer to his messiahship (Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17-18), setting the example for the apostles. This stone motif is used in other New Testament writings as well. [Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-8.]
In its original setting in Psalm 118, the “rejected stone” may have referred to Israel, hated by the nations but chosen by God. The builders who rejected the stone as unfit would most likely be other nations who built their own empires and worshipped their own gods. But Jesus, and Peter here in Acts, brands the Jewish religious leaders as “the builders.” They had built their own religious structures, beliefs and empire, and now they were rejecting the truth about salvation and the One who brought its message, Jesus.
“The cornerstone” is more literally in Greek “head of [the] corner,” kephale gonias. It refers to the capstone or keystone that joins the sides of an arch at the top. This stone is essential for holding the arch together, and is placed at its highest point and head. This capstone or “cornerstone” is essential for completing the arch. Just as there is only one capstone in an arch, Jesus Christ is the unique person who makes salvation possible. Apart from Jesus, there is no spiritual building, or church, because there is no salvation. “Salvation is found in no one else,” insisted Peter, “for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (4:12).
Unschooled apostles (4:13-14)
Peter is using some masterful biblical argumentation, usually reserved for trained rabbis. The Sanhedrin is astonished by this because the apostles are “unschooled, ordinary men” (4:13). People expressed the same surprise about Jesus: “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” (John 7:15). The Jewish leaders don’t necessarily regard Peter and John as ignorant and illiterate. The apostles are considered “unschooled” in terms of rabbinic training, that is, without professional qualifications. They are “ordinary” (Greek, idiotai) in the sense of being “commoners” or “laymen,” or “untrained” in matters of Jewish law. The religious leaders fault the people for their lack of expertise and understanding of Torah (which ironically means that their teachers were failing to do their job). In one case, the Pharisees said of those ordinary folks who believed in Christ: “this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them” (John 7:49).
Meanwhile, the Sanhedrin is getting nowhere with Peter and John. In fact, the council members are to some degree on the defensive. The apostles are using sophisticated rabbinic reasoning to force a consideration of Jesus as Messiah. How like Jesus they seemed in their ability to parry questions and avoid traps! It dawned on the council that the apostles must have learned the “tricks” of argumentation from their teacher — and so they take note “that these men had been with Jesus” (4:13).
The council has another problem: That healed beggar is still there. But why is he there the next day? Had he been arrested? Did he want to be a witness for the apostles? Luke doesn’t tell us. Whatever the case, the beggar’s presence is evidence of Jesus’ healing power. In a similar situation, Jesus had healed a man who had been born blind. His very presence reminded the religious community that Jesus had a power that could not be denied (John 9). Now another man born with an infirmity is healed. And he is here, still a witness. How could the Sanhedrin punish the apostles when the proof of Jesus’ power is plainly in their presence?
The Sanhedrin confers (4:15-18)
The Sanhedrin members withdraw into a private session to hammer out a plan regarding the apostles. They see the quandary they are in, and admit that Peter and John “have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it” (4:16).
Some readers today wonder, How did Luke find out what happened in the private meeting? When 70 people are at the meeting, it is difficult to keep the proceedings a secret — someone is going to talk about it, and eventually one of those people “in the know” became a Christian. Perhaps the drift of the discussion was inferred from what the council said when Peter and John were brought back. Perhaps Saul (Paul) himself was at the council, and he could have told Luke what happened. It seems that John himself had friends in the high priestly family, and he could have also learned what happened. There are many ways for “secret” information to be made public.
The apostles claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and this has been publicly confirmed by the healing of the lame man. The healing was done in Jesus’ name, and obviously a dead man cannot do anything. Luke Timothy Johnson says:
The leaders are upset because the apostles are proclaiming “in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (4:2). Yet they cannot deny the evidence that the resurrection power is at work through the apostles. The man has been cured: they see him standing there, they acknowledge that the whole city knows about it. And yet when they ask “what power or name” made him whole, and Peter answers that it is the power of the resurrected Jesus, they refuse to acknowledge it. [Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina series, volume 5 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1992), 81.]
No wonder the Sanhedrin members ask themselves, in perplexity: “What are we going to do with these men?” (4:16).
Warned not to speak (4:17-22)
The council decides to warn the apostles not to speak about Jesus again. If Peter and John do so, they will be in violation of the law. The council is providing itself with a legal basis for further action — and it will soon be needed, as we discover in the next chapter. Even now, it must be obvious to the Sanhedrin that the apostles will not go away quietly. When the council calls them in and commands them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus,” they are rebuffed (4:18). Peter and John tell the Sanhedrin that they will obey God, not the Sanhedrin. They will continue to witness to Jesus.
This brings more threats from the Sanhedrin, but they can’t punish the apostles because the people are praising God for a miracle. This same council of chief priests and elders had faced a similar problem in the case of Jesus. They couldn’t punish him openly, for as they said, “There may be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:5).
The Church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:23-5:16)
The believers’ prayer (4:23)
So far in Acts, Luke has described Peter’s preaching to the Jews of Jerusalem. Luke now shifts his focus to give us a glimpse of the apostles’ relationship to the Jerusalem church. We see a praying and giving church, full of faith. The apostles (Peter particularly) come in the power of God, performing miraculous signs and wonders.
The next section begins in 4:23 with Peter and John being released by the Sanhedrin. The two apostles then return to the church and tell the congregation about their persecution. The response of the church is to pray about the crisis (4:24). They perceive the danger to themselves, and to their mission of spreading the gospel. The believers realize that they cannot face the power of the Sanhedrin on their own. So they put their faith in God as the Sovereign Lord and the Creator of all. This is how they address him in their communal prayer. The disciples appeal to his power to deliver the church, much in the way that King Hezekiah prayed for the deliverance of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:16-20).
David’s prayer in Psalm 2 (Acts 4:25-27)
Luke provides a summary of how the church prayed. The congregation offers their prayer based on Psalm 2:1-2. The first thing we notice about the prayer is that God is said to have spoken it “by the Holy Spirit through the mouth” of David (Acts 4:25). David may have written the words, Luke was saying, but they were guided by the Holy Spirit.
The church understands that the threats of the council are not directed against them personally. That’s clear from their appeal to Psalm 2, which speaks of nations and kings plotting against God and his Anointed One. The Jewish persecution of the apostles was actually aimed at God and his Messiah. Psalm 2 refers to the Messiah, the Anointed One. There is some indication that by Jesus’ day this psalm was being interpreted by Jews as referring to a coming deliverer from David’s line. The church applied the psalm to those who had conspired against Jesus, who was God’s Anointed One (4:25-26 with 4:27). For the church, the unholy conspiracy involved in Jesus’ crucifixion consisted of Herod (“kings of the earth”), Pilate (“the rulers”), the Romans (“the nations”), and the people of Israel in Jerusalem (“the peoples”).
This is what is called a “pesher” (from Hebrew peser, “interpretation”). We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls the pesher method of interpreting Scripture was used in the Qumran community. The interpreter takes a text such as Psalm 2:1-2, which in context refers to ancient times, and identifies it with a contemporary figure and/or situation. He said, in effect, “This is the event and the people this scripture is referring to.”
This method of interpretation was common within Judaism during Jesus’ day, and was used by the early church. It was based on the belief that Scripture, reflecting God’s purpose and mind, had cosmic significance for all times and circumstances. It assumes that the original writers (usually prophets) did not understand the full significance of what they wrote about because they were far removed from the events to which their writings referred (1 Peter 1:10-12). The real meanings hidden in the text can be unraveled only by a divinely inspired person (or group) living in the time of the actual events. (Some modern interpreters do something similar, trying to identify contemporary events with various biblical prophecies; the result is almost always wrong.)
Prayer for boldness (4:28-30)
In this case, the church is saying that Jesus’ death and the persecution of God’s people were foretold in Scripture. Thus, it is happening with the knowledge of God, who decided beforehand that these things would occur (4:28).
The Jerusalem church’s prayer has a selfless aspect. They do not ask for relief from persecution nor judgment against their oppressors. Rather, the church wants to be given boldness to preach the gospel. They ask God to continue to heal, and perform miraculous signs and wonders, so the gospel will have attentive ears (4:29). Of course, the signs and wonders are to occur “through the name of…Jesus” (4:30). In Acts, all things are done through “the name.” The gospel is fearlessly preached (9:27), people are baptized (8:16), sins are forgiven (10:43) and demons are cast out (16:18) — all in Jesus’ name.
The idiom “name of Jesus Christ” is Luke’s expression of the presence of Christ, but not in any magical way. Rather, the preached word unleashes the power of the resurrected Christ so that the gap between the earthly Jesus and the resurrected Lord is bridged by the Spirit. [William Willimon, Acts: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988), page 13.]
In this instance, God answers the church’s prayer with resounding certainty. Their meeting place shakes as with an earthquake (4:31). Quakes often marked the sign of God’s presence in Scripture. [Acts 16:26; Exodus 19:18; Psalm 114:7; Isaiah 6:4; Ezekiel 38:19; Joel 3:16; Amos 9:5; Haggai 2:6.] In this case, God is signifying that his presence will be with the believers as they fulfill the commission to preach the gospel of salvation. God answers the Jerusalem church’s prayer for boldness by filling them with the Holy Spirit. The disciples already had the Holy Spirit as a life-changing force. But now they receive a special gift of confidence to proclaim the word of God with added conviction.
Believers share possessions (4:32-35)
Luke next returns to a subject he introduced earlier (2:44-45) — the sharing of possessions among the believers. In the community of believers at Jerusalem “no one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (4:32). Earlier we were told that the believers “had everything in common” (2:44). They sold possessions and goods, giving “to anyone who had need” (2:45). In this snapshot of church life, Luke illustrates the nature and extent of the Jerusalem believers’ concern for one another.
For Luke as well as 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. [Richard Longenecker, “Acts,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9 (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 309.]
Luke illustrates the relationship of gospel-preaching to giving by inserting verse 33 into the middle of the discussion about the believers’ shared possessions. This verse speaks of the great power by which the apostles testified to the resurrection of Christ. It might appear to be misplaced, since it discusses a different topic, but it isn’t.
Luke intends to place the apostles into the middle of the community’s life, so that “authority” and “possessions” will again reinforce each other. The “great power” of their proclamation is matched by their place in the collection and distribution of the community goods. [Johnson, 86.]
Luke indicates that most wealthy believers had a remarkably selfless attitude toward their possessions. They regard their estates as being at the disposal of the community when necessary. No doubt even those of limited means gave what they could to assist less fortunate brothers and sisters. Because of this attitude, “there were no needy persons among” the church members at Jerusalem (4:34).
“From time to time” — when the occasion warranted it — affluent members “who owned land or houses” would sell pieces of property and give the money to the apostles (4:35). The apostles in turn “distributed to anyone who had need.” This donating of resources to a common church fund was voluntary. The practice, in various forms, was known among other Jews, especially the Essene sect. Josephus points out that the Essenes required their members to have all property in common — at least as an idealized principle. He wrote that, “It is a law among them [the Essenes], that those who come to them must let what they have be common to the whole order — insomuch, that among them all there is no appearance of poverty or excess of riches, but every one’s possessions are intermingled with every other’s possessions.” [Josephus, Wars 2:122.]
The Jerusalem believers are generous in sharing what they have with other members. However, their sharing is on a voluntary basis; it is not “Christian communism.” There is probably a cultural-religious reason why the Jerusalem community has a common fund to help the needy. At this early date, the believers seem to consider themselves as a righteous remnant within Israel. They hold firmly to their national religious practices and institutions, and they feel strongly about certain promises in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Torah they read, “There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you” (Deuteronomy 15:4).
Other Jewish religious groups, such as the Essenes, also thought of themselves in terms of a remnant. They, too, expressed their spiritual oneness by sharing their goods. The Jerusalem church is following cultural norms in sharing their goods on a voluntary basis.
Perhaps more importantly, the church knows of Jesus’ command that mutual love should be its distinctive characteristic (John 13:34-35, 15:12). Thus, the believers feel a deep responsibility to care for the physical needs of their spiritual brothers and sisters. This continued to be a concern of the church (Galatians 2:9-10). The early church apparently expected Jesus to return soon. They probably thought that the gospel would be preached to all the Jews around the Roman world in a matter of years, perhaps only one or two decades. Then, “the end” would come. The disciples are therefore not concerned about their long-range needs. The kingdom of God is coming soon, and personal resources are to be used now instead of being stored up.
However, the ideal of generosity that the Jerusalem church attempts to reach in the sharing of goods is soon interrupted. God allows a persecution to come on this congregation that causes its members to be scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (8:1). And as it turns out, perhaps some members gave too much too quickly, resulting in an impoverished Jerusalem church. We get indications from Acts and Paul’s writings that the believers in Jerusalem were quite poor in later years. [Acts 11:27-30; 24:17; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10.] This is not to belittle what they did, and in fact their selflessness was no doubt pleasing to God. The later poverty of the Jerusalem church became a blessing to people who were able to help them (2 Corinthians 9:11). True discipleship is sometimes very costly.
We should not picture all Jerusalem church members as placing all their property in a common fund. This congregation did not form a communal society that required all possessions to be put in a common pot. Donations were given on a voluntary basis. The church members lived in their own homes (2:46; 12:12), and thus would have their own household possessions. They were married and had families (1 Corinthians 9:5; Acts 5:1-11). The well-to-do among the Jerusalem church “from time to time” sold property (4:34). They did not simply sell everything and pool all the money. Rather, they sold it off piece by piece, as needed. They continued to live in their own houses but were willing to give to the community when needs arose.
Barnabas sells a field (4:36-37)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by Paul Kroll in 1995 and updated in 2012. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved.
Luke next introduces a man named Joseph, a Levite (4:36). He was named Barnabas by the apostles, which Luke says means “Son of Encouragement.” The problem is that the word Barnabas actually means something like “Son of Nebo” (Bar-nabas). Luke’s interpretation of the name has been translated as “Son of exhortation,” or “of consolation” or “of encouragement.” “Son of Encouragement” certainly fits the character of Barnabas (9:27; 11:23; 12:25; 15:37).
The family of Barnabas originally came from Cyprus, and he may have owned property on the island, but he has close ties to Judea. John Mark is his cousin (Colossians 4:10), and he apparently lives with his mother in her home in Jerusalem (12:12). Barnabas will be an important figure in Luke’s story of the church’s expansion. He appears to be a link between the Jewish and Gentile worlds. [Acts 9:27; 11:22-30; 13:1-14:28; 15:2-4, 12, 22, 36-41; 1 Corinthians 9:6.] Barnabas is introduced here for two reasons. We are alerted to his future role in the spread of the gospel. He is also a fitting example of how the Jerusalem believers share their possessions.
Barnabas “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37). He is held up for special commendation in this regard, showing that the selling of property and donating the proceeds was voluntary. It was not required of all church members. Barnabas will later play a key role in mediating between a zealous Paul and a skeptical Jerusalem church that does not trust him (9:25). He will also be sent as an emissary to look into matters in the Antioch church. There he will put the stamp of approval for the preaching the gospel to Gentiles in Antioch (9:22-23). Luke assures his readers that Barnabas is submissive to the Twelve, and he can be trusted.