I’ve included a short suggested reading list at the end of this post, before the RSV copyright statement.
5:27-28: I’m using the RSV translation. See copyright notice at bottom of post.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
The captain and officers sent to arrest the Apostles (vs 26) did not find them in the prison where they had been securely locked (vss 22-23), for they had been released miraculously (vss 19-20). Notice that while the High Priest and those with him have been informed about the odd situation (locked prison, stationed guards in place, missing Apostles), they simply ignore it and ask why they are teaching! The scene here is similar to the healing in John 5, where the priests ignore the cure, not mentioning it at all, not asking “who cured you?” but “who told you to take up you mat and walk?”
27. The high priest questioned them. Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke does not record our Lord being specifically questioned by the High Priest, rather, he attributes the questioning in general to the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-72. See Mk 14:60; Matt 26:62; Jn 18:19). I find this a bit odd since Luke delights in paralleling what Jesus did and experienced (Gospel) with what the Apostles did and experienced (Acts).
28. We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching... The Greek is rather strange: “We commanded you a command.” The expression calls to mind Luke’s description of the order being referred to here, when the authorities decided to (literally) “Threaten (them) with threatening” (Acts 4:17). Is this redundant phrase merely the result of attempting to translate the Aramaic language of the High Priest into the Greek of Luke’s text? More likely (and this is implied by the RSV translation) the phrase is meant to convey shock and emphasis: “We, with all the authority at our disposal ordered you not to teach! yet here you are…” Such redundancy seems to imply some kind of intensity: “With desire I have desire” (Lk 22:15); “Rejoices with joy” (Jn 3:29); “Threaten with threatening (Acts 4:17).
Yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. Peter had previously pointed out to the authorities that his power (and that of the others) to heal was not his own (4:8-12). In 4:19-20 and in 5:32 he subtlety indicates that his (and the others) teaching is not from themselves.
And you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. The word intend (βούλεσθε) is meant to clash with the command issued by the authorities. In an ironic twist, the same word is used by Luke in verse 33 for the authorities intention to kill the Apostles: “When they heard this they were enraged and wanted (βούλεσθε) to kill them.”
Bring this man’s blood upon us, means lay the blame for his death on us, make us guilty, etc (see Gen 4:10-11; Hosea 12:14; Ezek 18:13). The phrase calls to mind Jesus’ denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees in Luke 11:50-51~”Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, `I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation.”
Peter declared the authorities guilty of the Lord’s death in Acts 4:10-11~”be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner.”
5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Recalls Peter’s words to the leaders in 4:19~”But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge.’” Does the absence of any reference to judging (deciding) in the present verse imply that the opportunity has passed? It appears so, as the plans of Gamaliel suggest (see vss 33-39, not part of our lectionary reading). Gamaliel’s “wait and see” attitude stands in contrast to the “today” of salvation (Luke 4:21). Although Gamaliel’s advice is often interpreted as an example of benignity, he is in fact acting in bad faith. Perhaps nothing highlights this more than the fact that the Sanhedrin “takes his advice”, which really should be seen in light of Peter’s words in verse 29-32. Concerning this aspect of the narrative see Luke Timothy Johnson’s THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, in the Sacra Pagina series, pages 102-103
Peter’s words about obeying God rather than man have been abused by countless individuals who have deemed themselves as being on a mission from God. The words have to be seen against Luke’s theology. The Jewish leaders were merely tenant farmers given the use of the Lord’s vineyard, but when the killed the Son of the vineyard’s owner they lost all right to run the operation of the vineyard and enjoy its fruits; both being given over to others (i.e., the Apostles). It is in this context that the statement about the stone being rejected by the builders (quoted by Peter in 4:11) is to be understood (see Luke 20:9-19). The vineyard has been given over to new tenants, and new builders build upon the cornerstone the original builders rejected. The old tenant and builders no longer enjoy the authority of God, hence Peter’s words: “We must obey God rather than men.”
30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
These verses could be described as a resume of the Apostolic Preaching.
31. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed. Compare these words with those of Gamaliel: “Thaddeus arose…but he was slain.” “After him Judas the Galilean arose…he also perished…”
Hanging him on a tree. The Greek word ξύλον can be translated as either “tree,” “wood,” or “club,” being derived from a word meaning “timber”. It can be used in reference to an instrument of punishment, such as a stock (Acts 16:24), or a cross.
32. God exalted him at his right hand. Note the conceptual contrasts between this statement and what was said in the last verse: The leaders hung Jesus on a tree but God has raised him up and exalted him.
as Leader and Savior. The term translated as “Leader” here is ἀρχηγός (archegos) which has a wide application. In 3:15 it is translated as “Author of life.” It is related to the word ἀρχων (archon), used by the narrator, St Peter, and the community in reference to Jewish leaders in chapter four, verses 5, 8, and 26. Archon (used of the leaders) means “first in power,” whereas archegos (used of our Lord) has a more fundamental sense: Originator. The Jewish leaders never had ultimate authority, and they now have none, for all authority now is centered in Christ and derives from him.
To give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. The offer of salvation to Israel is the primary focus of the early chapters of Acts, as Luke timothy Johnson notes. Repentance and forgiveness of sins are bound up together in Acts 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18, etc.
And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.
It was for the communication of repentance and forgiveness of sins that the Apostles were given the Holy Spirit and commissioned to preach (see Luke 24:46-49).
It is at this point that Gamaliel has the Apostles put out so he can speak to the Sanhedrin, after which the Apostles are brought back in.
40 when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
Recalls Luke 6:22-23~“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
Also 11:49-51~”Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, `I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation.”
Suggestions For Further Study:
The Ignatius Study Bible: Acts of Apostles, by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. contains text (RSVCE) and notes. Very basic, the place to begin for someone with little or no experience reading or studying the text. Keyed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
New Collegeville Bible Commentary: Acts of Apostles, by Dennis Hamm. Contains text (NAB) and commentary. This new series is far better than the one done by Collegeville in the 1980’s. Keyed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Introductory level.
Witnesses Of The Messiah: On Acts of the Apostles 1-15, by Stephen Pimentel. Commentary, no biblical text. Introductory level. A good resource for both individual and small group study. Study and review questions at the end of each chapter.
Sacra Pagina: The Acts Of The Apostles, by Luke Timothy Johnson. Text and commentary. Moderate level. Influential on subsequent Acts commentaries.
Anchor Bible Commentary: The Acts Of The Apostles, by Father Joseph Fitzmyer. Contains text and commentary. Advanced level, quite technical.