The acts of the apostles by john calvin edited from the original english translation of



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24. The chief captain. It was well and wisely done of the chief captain thus to withdraw Paul from the sight of the people, forasmuch as his presence did move and more provoke them who were already too much moved. For by this means he provideth for the life of the holy man, and partly appeaseth the madness of the people. But when he com-mandeth him to be scourged, to whose charge he heard no certain crime laid, he seemeth to deal unjustly. And yet this injury [injustice] was not without color, because it was likely that it was, not without cause, that all the people had conspired to put one man to death. Therefore, a vehement presumption was the cause of so strait examination. But we must note that this is a common custom among politic men, that they be just judges, so far as is expedient for them; but if they be called away by profit, then they go out of the way. Nevertheless, it is sufficient for them to color this their wickedness with the title of wisdom, because they hold that general principle, that the world cannot be governed without some show or color of justice; but in all actions that subtilty whereof I spake doth prevail, that they consider rather what is profitable than what is equal and right.

25. Is it lawful? He allegeth first the privilege of the city, then he defendeth himself by common law. And though there were more weight in the second point, (to wit, that it is not lawful to scourge a man before his cause is heard) yet should he have prevailed nothing, unless the centurion had been more moved with the honor of the Roman empire. For nothing was then more heinous than to do any thing which was contrary to the liberty of the people of Rome. Valerius’ law, the law of Porcius, and of Sempronius, and such like, did forbid that no man should do any violence to the body of the city of Rome F1377 without the commandment of the people. The privilege was so (sure and) holy, that they thought it to be not only a deadly offense, but also such an offense as could not be purged, that a citizen of Rome should be beaten.

Therefore, Paul escaped rather by the privilege than by common equity, yet did he not doubt in a good cause to bear off the injury which was prepared for him, with this buckler of the city. But we must know that he did so allege the right and privilege of the city, that the chief captain was brought to believe him, because his words should not hare been credited unless he had used some proof. Moreover, it was no hard matter for a man, who was well known, to bring forth witnesses. We alleged a cause in the sixteenth chapter, why he suffered himself to be scourged at Philippos, [Philippi] which he now preventeth by his own declaration; to wit, because he should not have been heard in a tumult raised among the common people (<441637>Acts 16:37). But because he hath now to deal with the soldiers of Rome, who did behave themselves more moderately and gravely, he useth the opportunity.



26. This man is a Roman. Some man may marvel that he was so credulous, who was appointed to be chief in examining Paul, that he doth affirm the thing, as if he knew it to be so. For if he ought to believe Paul’s words, every malefactor might, by this shift, have escaped punishment. But this was their manner of dealing, he which did say that he was a citizen of Rome, unless he could bring in some which knew him, or prove it lawfully, he was punished; for it was death for any man to pretend the freedom of the city falsely. Wherefore, the centurion referreth the matter unto the chief captain, as doubting thereof; and he (as we have said) doth straightway examine the matter more thoroughly. And though Luke doth not express by what testimonies Paul did prove himself to be a citizen of Rome, yet, undoubtedly, the chief captain knew the truth of the matter before he loosed him.

28. With a great sum. The chief captain objecteth this to refute him as if he should say, that the freedom of the city is not so common, and easily to be obtained. How can it be that thou, being some base fellow of the country of the Cilicians, shouldst obtain this honor, for which I paid sweetly? Whereas Paul maketh answer, that he was free born, who never saw the city, yea, whose father it may be was never there, there is no cause why this should trouble any man. For those who are skillful in the Roman history know that certain were made free of the city who dwelt in the provinces, if, having deserved well of the commonwealth, or in war, or in other weighty affairs, they did desire and crave this reward of the deputies, [proconsuls] so that it is no absurdity to say that he was born a citizen of Rome, who, descending by his ancestors of some province far distant from Rome, did never set foot in Italy. Notwithstanding, the question is, how this can hang together, that the chief captain was afraid, because he had bound a citizen of Rome, and yet he did not loose him from his bonds until the morrow? It may be that he deferred it till the next day, lest he should show some token of fear. Notwithstanding, I think that the chief captain was afraid, because Paul was bound at his commandment, that he might be scourged, because this was to do injury to the body of a citizen of Rome, and to break the common liberty, and that [although] it was lawful to put a Roman in prison.



Chapter 23



Acts 23:1-5

1. And Paul beheld the council steadfastly, and said, Men and brethren, I have served God until this day in all good conscience. 2. And the high priest Ananias commanded those that stood by him to smite him on the face. 3. Then Paul said to him, God will smite thee, thou painted wall; and thou sittest judging according to law, and transgressing the law, commandest thou me to be smitten? 4. And those which stood by said, Railest thou on God’s high priest? 5. And Paul said, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

1. Looking earnestly. Paul beginneth with the testimony of a good conscience, that all the whole multitude may understand that he is unjustly charged with such an heinous offense, as if he had gone about to overthrow the worship of God. It may be, indeed, that a man may offend of ignorance, who will not otherwise be a contemner either of God or of religion; but Paul meant at the first, only with this excuse, to mollify their nettled minds, that he might the better be heard; for it had been in vain for him to have defended himself, so long as that opinion did stick in the minds of the priests, that he was a wicked revolt, [apostate]. Therefore, before he enter the cause, he excuseth himself of that crime, not only that he may purchase favor by that desire which he had to live godlily, but also that he may prevent false accusations, or at least that he may refute unjust prejudices which might have made against him, wherewith he saw the whole multitude infected and corrupted. We know not what he meant to say besides. Notwithstanding, this preface teacheth that no man can rightly handle the doctrine of godliness, unless the fear of God reign and bear the chief sway in him. And now, though he give not the priests so honorable a title here as he did a little before, when he stood upon the steps of the fortress, yet he calleth them brethren, giving them that honor, not because they deserve it, but that he may testify that he is not the cause of the breach of friendship.

2. And the chief priest. Luke’s narration seemeth not to agree with the usual history; for Josephus writeth thus concerning the high priests of that time, that Quadratus, deputy [proconsul] of Syria, deposing Cumanus from the government of Judea, commanded him to answer for himself before Caesar, and sent Ananias, the highest priest, bound with him, into whose place who was chosen he maketh no mention, saving that it is likely that Jonathas had the honor given him, who, as he reporteth, was afterward slain by the subtilty and treachery of Felix, deputy [prefect] of Judea, who succeeded Cumanus; for when he had oftentimes told Felix part of his mind, and he could not away with the constancy of the man, he made a compact with one Doras, that he should privily convey in murderers to slay him. Then, as the same Josephus doth witness, king Agrippa made Ismael, the son of Phebeus, priest. But when he was sent by the people to Rome about a certain suit, and was kept there by Popea, wife to Nero, Agrippa putteth in his place one Josephus, whose name was Chabus, the son of Simon. But immediately being also weary of him, he appointeth Ananus, the son of Ananus, to be high priest.

Furthermore, he saith that this last thing happened at such time as, after the death of Festus, Albinus did succeed him. And I see not why some call this Ananus Ananias. That hath indeed some color, in that he is called a Pharisee; also in that it is said that he was bold and stout, who, without any lawful authority, caused James, the Lord’s brother, to be stoned. But if we give credence to Josephus, he could not be that Ananias of whom mention is made ill this place by Luke, who was then made priest, when many years were past and gone, after that Felix departed out of the province.

I have another conjecture in my head. For there flourished during all that time one Ananias, an high priest, who, excepting the title of honor, was almost chief in the order. And because Josephus leaveth some void time between Ananias and Ismael, it may be that this man had the room of the highest priest in the meantime. F1378 But though this were not so, it appeareth out of Josephus, that Ananias, who died when the city was besieged, was, in the reign of Claudius Caesar and Nero, equal in dignity with the chief priests which were then.

Yea, his authority is so highly extolled, as if he had the chief government, howsoever other men did bear the ensigns of honor. Again, he is called arciereuv confusedly, F1379 as those who were the highest priests. Now, let the readers ponder and consider, whether the word arciereuv doth not rather signify in this place chief than highest, as it doth in many other places. For the Evangelists do everywhere call the priests who were of the course of Aaron arciereiv, that they may distinguish them from the Levites, who had a more inferior degree of priesthood. Moreover, it may be that that Ananias, who was counted stout and courageous, did supply the high priest’s room in his absence. Those things which we have recited out of Josephus are recorded partly in the Twentieth Book of Antiquities, from the third chapter until the eight; partly in the Second Book of the Wars of the Jews.



He commanded him to be smitten. We see that there was in this assembly great distemperature. For whereas the high priest was in such rage, that he commanded Paul to be smitten for nothing, he did it undoubtedly with the consent of all the rest; yea, to the end he might win the favor of mad men. The Lord doth suffer the wicked to be so carried away by Satan, that they fall from all show of equity and temperance. For hypocrites would fain bear some show of moderation; and undoubtedly this high priest went about to pretend such gravity as did beseem his person. But the Lord did pluck this visure [mask] from his face, so that there was not found in him so much as the modesty of a mean man, but he poured out his furious force like a beast.

In the mean season, we see what horrible and filthy disorder there was at that day in the Church. Ananias, who was the chief of the council, whereas he ought to have stayed others by his gravity, forgetting all modesty, he enforceth them unto violence and savageness. Therefore they had at that day no regard of discipline, but there remained among them confused barbarism. And no marvel, for they had estranged themselves from God; they had most reproachfully rejected Christ; all their religion was set to sale. Therefore it was meet that they should run headlong into furious madness, which might be loathsome even among profane men, that they might be punished in their own shame for their ungodliness.



3. God shall smite thee. Paul cannot put up that injury, but he must, at least, with sharp words reprehend the high priest, F1380 and denounce God’s vengeance unto him. For it is no curse, as appeareth sufficiently by the Greek text, but rather a reprehension, joined with the denouncing of a punishment. If any man object, that Paul did not use that modesty which Christ commandeth his to use, when he commandeth them after they have received a blow on the left cheek to turn the right cheek also, (<400539>Matthew 5:39) we may readily answer, that Christ doth not in these words require silence, whereby the wickedness and frowardness of the wicked may be nourished; but he doth only bridle their minds, that they may not take that injury, which they have already received, impatiently. Christ will have those that be his to be ready to suffer another injury after that they have already received one; and by this means he represseth all desire of revenge. This is a brief and true definition of patience which beseemeth all the faithful, that they break not out into wrathfulness, that they do not one evil turn for another; but that they overcome evil with goodness. But this is no let but that they may complain of those injuries which they have suffered, but that they may reprove the wicked, and cite them to the judgment-seat of God; so they do this with quiet and calm minds; and, secondly, without evil will and hatred; as Paul appealeth, in this place, unto God’s judgment-seat, that the high priest may not flatter himself in his tyranny. Therefore he accuseth him, because he breaketh the law, from which (as he pretendeth) he hath his authority; whence he gathereth, that he shall not escape unpunished.

If any man, being overcome with impatience, do but murmur, he shall not be blameless. But a manifest and sharp accusation, if it proceed from a quiet mind, doth not pass the bounds set down by Christ. If any man say that it is mixed with railing, I answer, that we must always mark with what affection the words be uttered. Christ pronounceth that man to be worthy to be punished by the council who shall only say to his brother raca; and as for him who shall say thou fool, he maketh him subject to a more heavy judgment (<400522>Matthew 5:22). But if opportunity be offered to reprove, we must oftentimes reprehend sharply. Whereby it appeareth, that this only was Christ’s drift to keep back his, first, from all indignation, secondly, from speaking anything in despite F1381 of any man. Therefore, let us beware of railing, and then we may not only note in our brethren foolishness, but also it shall be lawful for us to express their offenses by their names when need shall be. So Paul did not speak for his own sake, that he might, with sharp words, requite the injury done to him by the high priest; but because he was a minister of the word of God, he would not wink at an offense which did deserve sharp and serious reprehension; especially seeing it was profitable to bring to light the gross hypocrisy of Ananias. Therefore, so often as we have any dealings with the wicked, if we be desirous to handle a good cause well, we must beware that there break out in us no motion of anger, that no desire of revenge provoke us to break out into railing. But if the spirit of meekness reign in us, we may handle the wicked according to their deserts, as it were out of the mouth of God; yet so that it may appear that we be rather prophets, than that we blunder out anything rashly through immoderate heat.



4. Those which stood by said. By this it appeareth that they were all sick of one disease. F1382 For why do they not rather blame Ananias, when they saw that he had quite forgotten all modesty, and that he brake out into violence and stripes after a barbarous manner? for even this did turn to the reproach of them all. F1383 But this is a solemn [marked] thing among hypocrites, they look narrowly into other men’s faults and wink at their own. Again, this pride is coupled with tyranny, so that their subjects, and those who are under them, may do nothing, but as for themselves, they may do whatsoever they will. So fareth it at this day in Popery, the more liberty that impure clergy doth grant to itself, and the more carelessly it waxeth wanton, and polluteth the whole world with the sins which flow thence, the more straitly do they rule and stay the tongues of the people. Therefore, if any man dare be so bold as once to whisper, a little liberty doth cause them to make outrageous outcries as it were heinous sacrilege.

5. I knew not, brethren. Those who think that this excuse of Paul hath in it no figure, do not well mark the contrary objections wherewith their error is refuted. They say that Paul knew not the high priest, because he had been absent long time; as if he were ignorant that he was chief priest, who is the chief in the council, and hath the uppermost room. Neither was Ananias so base and obscure that Paul was ignorant of his degree. But his words cut off all occasion of disputation, when as he chideth him, because, occupying the place of a judge, under color of the law, he doth, in his rage, that which is contrary to law. Therefore Paul knew what place he had, when he said that he abused his power. Other some invent a more subtle answer, that he spake not here of the mail, but of the office and public person. But, first, the exposition is far fet, [fetched] because, if Paul did reverence the priesthood, he must needs have given some honor to the man which had the same. And now it is not to be thought (forasmuch as the majesty of the priesthood was abolished by the coming of Christ, and that there followed such filthy profanation) that Paul did honor those as he was wont, (as if their perfect and lawful authority did continue) who, under the title of the high priests, did reign as lords without any law or right.

Therefore, subscribing to Augustine, I do not doubt but that this is a taunting excuse. Neither doth that any whit hinder, because plain speech becometh the ministers of the word. For seeing there be two sorts of ironies, one which is covered with subtilty and means to deceive, another which doth so figuratively note out the thing which is in hand, that it doth prick sorer; in this second, there is nothing which doth not well beseem the servants of Christ. Therefore, this is the meaning of the words, Brethren, I acknowledge nothing in this man which belongeth to the priest. Also, he added a testimony of the 22nd chapter of Exodus, (<022228>Exodus 22:28) in which place, though Moses speak of judges, yet the sentence is extended properly unto any lawful order. Therefore all dignity, which is appointed for maintenance of civil government, ought to be reverenced and had in honor. For whosoever he be that rebelleth against or resisteth the magistrate, or those who are appointed to rule, and are promoted unto honor, he would have no government. F1384 And such desire tendeth to the disturbing of order. Yea, it shaketh and overthroweth all humanity. Therefore Paul purgeth himself of this crime; yet so, that he denieth that Ananias is to be counted a priest of God, who hath corrupted and perverted all the order of the Church.



But here riseth a question, whether we ought not to obey a ruler, though he exercise tyranny? For if that man be not to be deprived of honor which executeth his office amiss, Paul offended in robbing the high priest of his honor. Therefore I answer, that there is some difference between civil magistrates and the prelates of the Church. For though the exploiting [administration] of earthly or civil rule be confused or perverse, yet the Lord will have men to continue still in subjection. But when the spiritual government doth degenerate, the consciences of the godly are at liberty, and set free from obeying unjust authority; especially if the wicked and profane enemies of holiness do falsely pretend the title of priesthood to overthrow the doctrine of salvation, and challenge to themselves such authority, as that they will be thereby equal with God. So it is not only lawful for the faithful at this day to shake off from their shoulders the Pope’s yoke, but they must do it of necessity, seeing they cannot obey his laws unless they forsake God.



Acts 23:6-9

6. And when Paul knew that the one part were of the Sadducees, and the other of the Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: I am judged of the hope and resurrection of the dead. 7. And when he had thus said, there was a dissension among the Pharisees and Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. 8. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, neither angel, neither spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. 9. And there was a great cry: and the scribes of the Pharisees’ sect arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if the spirit or an angel have spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

6. And when Paul knew. The policy F1385 of Paul, whereof Luke maketh mention, doth seem not to beseem the servant of Christ. For the subtilty which he used was inwrapped in dissimulation, which was not far from a lie. He saith that the state of his cause did consist in the resurrection of the dead: but we know that the strife arose about other matters: because he disannulled the ceremonies, because he admitted the Gentiles into the covenant of salvation. I answer, that though these things be true, yet did not he lie. For he doth neither deny that he was accused of other matters, neither doth this make the whole controversy to consist in one point; but he saith truly that the Sadducees were therefore offended with him, because he did hold the resurrection of the dead. He knew that those who had conspired together against him were enemies also one to another. F1386 He knew that his own conscience was clear; and it had been an easy matter for him to prove his cause good before just judges. Yet because he seeth them cry out on him clamorously, and that he had no place granted to defend himself, he setteth his enemies together by the ears. Whereby it doth also appear, that they were carried away through ignorance and blind zeal. Therefore we must note that Paul did so begin, as that he was desirous truly and plainly to unfold the whole matter; and that he did not craftily refuse to make a pure and sound confession, such as, the servants of Christ ought to make; but because the way was stopt before him, neither could he be heard, he used the last remedy, F1387 to declare that his adversaries were carried headlong with blind hatred. For the end doth show, that those are not guided with reason or judgment, who are carried out of the way by mutual discord.

Now, if any man, which darkeneth the light of doctrine, excuse his craft, by the example of Paul, he is easily refuted. For it is one thing for a man to provide for himself alone with the loss of truth, and another to lead the professed enemies of Christ from resisting him, that they may strive among themselves.

Furthermore, we see the nature of the wicked, though they disagree among themselves like enemies, yet when they are to make war against the gospel, they forget their own garboils [strifes]. For Satan, the father of discord, doth procure this one consent only among his, that they may be of one mind and of one affection, to extinguish godliness. So we see that the factions which are in Popery hot, F1388 are quiet only so long as they join hand in hand to oppress the gospel. For which cause, the disciples of Christ must be more courageous to foster and nourish truth, that, being joined together, they may the better resist. Also, we gather by this what manner of peace the Scripture commendeth unto us. Christ saith that the peace-makers are the children of God, (<400509>Matthew 5:9) and this is true, that they must do what they can to bring all men that they may grow together F1389 under the Lord. Yet this doth not hinder but that we may, (fighting under the banner of the same Lord) as it were, with the sound of the trumpet, stir up the wicked, that they may, like Midianites, one slay another, (<070722>Judges 7:22) so that both simplicity of zeal, and the wisdom of the Spirit, direct us hither.

One part were Sadducees. We see here again, as in a glass, how deformed and confused the ruin of the Church was at that day. Faith is the soul of the Church; nothing is more proper to faith than agreement, nothing more contrary than sects. And this thing must needs follow, when every man (setting aside the word of God) did draw his disciples unto his own inventions. For there is no other holy bond of unity than the natural and plain F1390 truth of God. So soon as men depart from that, no marvel if they be dispersed and drawn hither and thither like members pulled asunder.

Therefore, the beginning of sects among the Jews was the corruption of the law; like as the Lord did revenge the profanation of his word, which was corrupt with diverse inventions of men, with like punishment in Popery. Wherefore, we must the more fear, lest horrible and more lamentable scatterings hang over our heads than was that which was in time of Popery, whereof there appear some tokens. And no marvel, seeing we provoke the Lord to wrath so many ways with our unthankfulness. But though the face of the Church be blotted and blurred with many spots and blots; and what manner of deformity soever fall out hereafter, let us comfort ourselves with this, that as God was careful then to deliver the Church wonderfully from destruction, so through his grace there shall always some seed continue. It cannot be, indeed, but that godly minds will somewhat despair, when they see things so far out of order; but let us learn straightway to hold up that buckler, that the Lord, who, in such a thick mist of errors, in such a heap of superstitions, in the unbridled licentiousness of sects, did preserve his Church among the Jews, will never suffer the same to be quite put out wholly in the world.

The same thing did likewise happen in Popery. For when as the worship of God was overthrown there, the doctrine of salvation was oppressed, the kingdom of Christ was thrown down, and ungodliness did openly reign, yet God did save certain hidden remnants, and there was always some wheat in the chaff. It is very profitable to confer these examples together. When as we inveigh at this day against Popery, the hired patrons thereof cry out on the other side, that nothing is more absurd than that we should imagine that the Church of God was extinguished during many ages, as if we did imagine that God had no people left, when those had forsaken him who ought to have maintained his pure worship. Yea, we complain that those tyrants did corrupt the Church, that the temple was by them profaned, so that it did not greatly differ from an hog’s-sty, that the flock of Christ was scattered abroad, and his sheepfold broken down. Finally, that the Church was hidden from the eyes of men, yet so that the Lord knew his elect, though they were dispersed, and did brood them under his wings. And by this it appeareth how foolishly the Papists brag and boast of the titles of honor, in that not the common sort, or any private men, but the priests themselves did in times past divide the Jewish church by deadly dissension.

Wherefore, there is no cause why we should be afraid stoutly to resist the pride of the Pope and of all his adherents, with whom we have the same combat which the prophets and apostles had with the priests of their time. And as the reverence of the Church did not keep back holy men, but that they did molest the tyranny of the wicked priests, so we must not be terrified with vain visures, [masks] under which the Papists do vainly boast, seeing they have, notwithstanding, cast from them the doctrine of godliness. It is certain that the people were then divided into three sects; but Luke doth only make mention of the Pharisees and Sadducees, omitting the Essenes, because it was most fit for his purpose thus to do. And though this be the common opinion concerning their names, that the former took their name of separating, because they withdrew themselves from the company of other men, by reason of their reigned holiness; and that the second sort took their name of righteousness, as if they were called zeduchim; notwithstanding, for mine own part, as I have said elsewhere, I am rather of their mind who say that the Pharisees took their name of interpreting. For phrus signifieth exposition, whereupon also interpreters are called phruschim; and we know that the Pharisees, being not content with the natural doctrine of the law and prophets, did put in many inventions which they said they received F1391 of the fathers.


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