Acts Chapter Four by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

Acts Chapter Four

“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you, rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 NRSV)

Acts chapter four is a continuation of the conversation in chapter three. However, now we get to witness the response of the priests, rulers, and Sadducees, i.e., the priestly family, or according to Luke, the Sanhedrin Council. These religious leaders were annoyed that Peter and John healed the lame beggar and spoke in the name of Jesus. They arrested them and held them in custody until the next day. However, those who heard the word, believed, and that number was around five thousand.

The next day, Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin Council. They wanted to know by what power or what name did they do “this.”  The “this” could refer to the healing of the lame beggar, or it could refer to Peter’s teaching in the temple that resulted in controversy. Once again, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak with boldness (watch that word), saying that the man was standing before them, healed, by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. “In the narrative context, the question regarding ‘this’ refers to a name rather than to a magical power – to the ‘name of Jesus Christ’ by whom the man is healed in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.”[i] Peter also accused them of crucifying Jesus and affirmed that God raised him from the dead. “They are arrested because they attest to the resurrection of the dead,”[ii] which was a radical theological and spiritual position in that culture.

Peter quoted Psalm 118:22 in defense “that the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, had become the chief cornerstone.” It was a warning to these same leaders that to “reject Jesus is to reject the ‘cornerstone’ of Israel’s promised salvation.”[iii]  Peter goes on to say that there is salvation in no one else, ‘for there is no other name under heaven given, among mortals by which we must be saved” (or healed). In this context, saved and healed is the same Greek word. “The final line of Peter’s speech, awkwardly but emphatically stated, offers a synthesis of Luke’s theology of salvation and echo’s Joel’s prophecy.”[iv] 

When the rulers saw the boldness of Peter and John, they understood that they were uneducated men, and realized that they were companions of Jesus. “The rulers failed to recognize that Peter is an inspired prophet-like-Jesus and that the ‘filling of the Holy Spirit (4:8) had elevated his intellectual and rhetorical abilities without benefit of theological training or academic school.”[v] The religious leaders could not oppose the miracle; however, they were salty that it was performed “in the name of Jesus,” which was antithetical to Jewish law.   

The Sanhedrin Council ordered Peter and John to be escorted out of their presence, while they went into executive session. They reasoned among themselves that the man had been healed. But in their fear of having it spread throughout Jerusalem, they made a political decision to order them not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus. The commentary stated that they were asking the right questions but debated the wrong things.

When they brought Peter and John back into the room, they ordered them not to speak or teach anymore in the name of Jesus. This time, Peter and John answered, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you, rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Because the rulers feared the people, they could not punish Peter and John. So, they threatened them again, and let them go. 

God’s intention for Israel is clear. However, the rulers of Israel get in the way. Peter’s speech (which can be considered an epilogue from chapter 3: “includes a political criticism of the Council’s ability to lead Israel: Its members are unable to speak for God because they are unable to understand the proclamation of God’s word or the meaning of the healed man.”[vi]

Peter and John returned to their friends and told them what had happened. When they heard it, they raised their voice together in praise to God, quoting, this time, Psalm 2:1-2. The praise turned into a prayer of thanksgiving to God, as they spoke the word in anticipation of what God could do – “And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness” (there is it again).

When they finished praying, the Holy Spirit showed up again and filled them, so much so that the place where they gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word with boldness (there is that word again).

This group believed and had all things in common. Because of Peter’s and John’s apostolic authority, it is not unlikely that they took the message back to the other Apostles and not just their friends. They were of one heart and one mind. Everyone sold their possessions and laid them at the Apostles’ feet. This is similar to the end of Acts chapter two. The Apostles distributed the resources based on what everyone needed. This is also where we are introduced to Barnabas, or “son of encouragement, ” a companion to Paul on his missionary journeys.   Barnabas had a field that he sold – he brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet.

Prayer: And Now, Lord, we thank you that you are able to fill us and empower us through your Holy Spirit. Your Spirit gives us the boldness to proclaim what we know about you. Thank you for calling us to be witnesses of what we hear from you. In our ordinary daily lives, give us hearts to hear you so that we might share your word with others. Help us to trust your word. Help us not to be timid in our faith and belief in your work and mission. In the name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

[i] New Interpreter’s Bible:  A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. X; Acts: pg. 89.

[ii] Ibid., pg., 88.

[iii] Ibid., pg. 89.

[iv] Ibid., pg. 90.

[v] Ibid., pg. 90.

[vi] Ibid., pg. 91.