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

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32. Judas and Silas. These two brethren were sent for this cause, that they might also testify the same thing by word which was contained in the letters, and more also; otherwise the apostles would not have sent such short letters concerning so great and weighty a matter; and they would have also spoken somewhat touching the mysteries of faith, and would have made some long exhortation, wherein they would have persuaded them unto the study of godliness. Now, Luke showeth some farther things by them done; to wit, that being furnished with the gift of prophecy, they edify the Church in general, as if he should say, they did not only do their duty faithfully in the cause which was now in hand, but they did also take good and profitable pains in teaching and exhorting the Church And we must note that he saith that they exhorted the Church, because they were prophets; for it is not a thing common to all men to enter such an excellent function. Therefore, we must beware, lest any man pass F1012 his bounds; as Paul teacheth, <460720>1 Corinthians 7:20; and <490401>Ephesians 4:1, that every one keep himself within the measure of grace received. Wherefore, it is not in vain that Luke saith that the office of teaching is peculiar; lest any man, through ambition, being void of ability, or through rash zeal, or through any other foolish desire, coveting to put out his head, trouble the order of the Church.

They were prophets. Whereas the word hath diverse significations, it is not taken in this place for those prophets to whom it was granted to foretell things to come; because this title should come in out of season F1013 when he intreateth of another matter; but Luke’s meaning is, that Judas and Silas were endued with excellent knowledge and understanding of the mysteries of God, that they might be good interpreters of God; as Paul, in the fourteenth of the First to the Corinthians, (<461403>1 Corinthians 14:3,) when he intreateth of the prophecy, and preferreth it before all other gifts, speaketh not of foretelling of things to come; but he commandeth it for this fruit, because it doth edify the Church by doctrine, exhortation, and consolation. After this manner doth Luke assign exhortation to the prophets, as being the principal point of their office.

33. They were let go in peace. That is, when they departed, the brethren, in taking their leave of them, did wish them well, as friends use to do. And there is synecdoche in this member; because the one of the two did only return to Jerusalem. And in the text there is a correction added immediately, that it seemed good to Silas to tarry there; but when Luke joineth them both together, his meaning is only to declare that the Church was quiet before they thought upon any returning. At length he addeth that Paul and Barnabas, so long as they were at Antioch, gave themselves to teaching, and did continue in this work, F1014 and yet did they give place to many more. F1015 Whereby it appeareth, that they had all one and the same desire without grudging, F1016 so that they joined hand in hand to do good; though it seemeth that he maketh mention of many more of set purpose, lest we should think that, after that Paul and Barnabas were departed, that Church was destitute, which did flourish in abundance of teachers. Moreover, the blessing of God, which began straightway to appear again in that Church, is now again commended and extolled, which Church Satan went about F1017 by his ministers miserably to scatter and lay waste.

Acts 15:36-41

36. And after a few days Paul said to Barnabas, Returning, let us now visit our brethren throughout all cities wherein we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. 37. And Barnabas counseled to take John, whose surname was Mark. 38. But Paul besought him, that he which slid back from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work, might not be taken to their company. 39. And the contention waxed so hot between them, that they parted company; and Barnabas having taken to him Mark, sailed to Cyprus. 40. But Paul having chosen Silas, journeyed, being committed to the grace of God by the brethren. 41. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, establishing the churches.

36. Let us visit our brethren. In this history we must first note how careful Paul was for the churches which he had ordained. He laboreth, indeed, at Antioch profitably, but because he remembered that he was an apostle ordained of God, and not the pastor of one particular place, he keepeth the course of his calling. Secondly, as it did not become him to be tied to one place, so he thinketh with himself, that he was bound to all whom he begat in the Lord; therefore, he will not suffer them to want his help. Moreover, the work that was begun in those places could not be neglected; but it would shortly after decay. Yet it is to be thought that Paul stayed still in the church of Antioch, until he saw the estate thereof well ordered, and concord established. For we know and try F1018 what great force principal churches F1019 have to keep other lesser churches in order. If there arise any tumult in an obscure street, or if there fall out any offense, the rumor goeth not so far, neither are the neighbors so much moved; but if any place be excellent, it cannot quail without great ruin, or, at least, but that the lesser buildings shall be therewith sore shaken, both far and wide. Therefore, Paul, in staying a time at Antioch, did provide for other churches; and so we must no less look unto his wisdom than his diligence in this example, because oftentimes the immoderate heat of the pastors in going about matters doth no less hurt than their sluggishness.

How they do. Paul knew that amidst so great lightness and inconstancy of men, and as their nature is inclined to vice, if there be any thing well ordered among them, it doth seldom continue stable, and for any long time; and especially that churches do easily decay or grow out of kind, unless they be looked to continually. There ought nothing under heaven to be more firm than the spiritual building of faith, whose stability is grounded in the very heaven; yet there be but few in whose minds the word of the Lord doth thoroughly take lively root; therefore, firmness is rare in men. Again, even those who have their anchor firmly fixed in the truth of God, do not cease notwithstanding to be subject to diverse tossings, whereby, though their faith be not overturned, yet hath it need of strengthening, that it may be underpropped and stayed. Moreover, we see how Satan doth assault, and with what subtle shifts he goeth about privily to pull down sometimes whole churches, sometimes every one of the faithful particularly. Therefore, it is not without cause that Paul is so careful for his scholars, lest they behave themselves otherwise than is to be wished; and therefore is he desirous in time to prevent, if there be any inconvenience risen, which cannot be until he have taken view. F1020

37. And Barnabas gave counsel. Luke doth here set down that doleful disagreement which ought to make all the godly afraid for just causes. The society of Paul and Barnabas was consecrated by the heavenly oracle. They had long time labored, being of one mind, under this yoke whereunto the Lord had tied them; they had, by many experiences, tried [felt] the excellent favor of God, yea, that wonderful success mentioned heretofore by Luke was a manifest blessing of God. Though they had been almost drowned so often in so many tempests of persecution, and were set upon so sore F1021 by infinite enemies, though domestical sedition were everywhere kindled against them, yet they were so far from being pulled in sunder, that their agreement was then most of all tried, [proved.] But now, for a light matter, and which might easily have been ended, they break that holy bond of God’s calling.

This could not fall out without great perturbance to all the godly. Seeing that the heat of the contention was so great and vehement in these holy men, who had long time accustomed themselves to suffer all things, what shall befall us, whose affections being not as yet so brought to obey God, do oftentimes rage F1022 without modesty? Seeing that a light occasion did separate them, who had long time, amidst so great trials, retained unity holily, how easily may Satan cause those to be divided who have either none, or, at least, a cold desire to foster peace? What great pride was it for Barnabas, who had no more honorable thing than to be Paul’s companion, that he might behave himself like a son towards his father, so stubbornly to refuse his counsel? Peradventure, also, some might think that Paul was not very courteous in that he did not forgive a faithful helper this fault. Therefore, we be admonished by this example, that unless the servants of Christ take great heed, there be many chinks through which Satan will creep in, to disturb that concord which is among them.

But now we must examine the cause itself, for some there be who lay the blame of the disagreement upon Paul; F1023 and, at the first hearing, the reasons which they bring seem probable. John Mark is rejected, because he withdrew himself from Paul’s company; but he fell not away from Christ. A young man, being as yet unacquainted with bearing the cross, returned home from his journey. He was somewhat to be borne ,with for his age, being a fresh-water soldier [a tyro] he fainted in troubles even at the first dash; he was not, therefore, about to be a slothful soldier during his whole life. Now, forasmuch as his returning to Paul is an excellent testimony of repentance, it seemeth to be a point of discourtesy F1024 to reject him; for those must be handled more courteously, who punish themselves for their own offenses of their own accord. There were also other causes which ought to have made Paul more courteous. The house of John Mark was a famous inn, F1025 (<441212>Acts 12:12;) his mother had entertained the faithful in most grievous persecution; when Herod and all the people were in a rage, they were wont to have their secret meetings there, as Luke reported before. Surely he ought to have borne with such a holy and courageous woman, lest immoderate rigor should alienate her. She was desirous to have her son addicted to preach the gospel; now, what a great grief might it have been to her that his pains and industry should be refused F1026 for one light fault? And now whereas John Mark doth not only bewail his fault, but in very deed amend the same, Barnabas hath a fair color why he should pardon him. F1027

Yet we may gather out of the text, that the Church did allow Paul’s counsel. For Barnabas departeth, and with his companion he saileth into Cyprus. There is no mention made of the brethren, (as if he had departed privily without taking his leave;) but the brethren commend Paul in their prayers to the grace of God; whereby appeareth that the Church stood on his side. Secondly, whereas God showeth forth the power of his Spirit in blessing Paul, and doth bless his labors with happy success of his grace, and leaveth Barnabas, as it were, buried, there may a probable reason be drawn thence, that it pleased him that such an example of severity should be showed. And surely the offense of John Mark was greater than it is commonly taken for. He slid not back, indeed, from the faith of Christ, yet did he forsake his calling, and was a revolt [apostate] from the same; therefore, it was a matter which might have given evil example, if he had been straightway received again into the calling from which he was slid back. He had given himself over to serve Christ upon this condition, that he should be free no longer. It was no more lawful for him to break his promise made in this behalf, than it is for a husband to leave his wife, or for a son to forsake his father. Neither doth infirmity excuse his unfaithfulness, whereby the holiness of the calling was violated.

And we must note, that he was not altogether rejected of Paul; he counted him as a brother, so he would be content with the common order; he refused to admit him unto the common [public] function of teaching, from whence he fell filthily through his own fault. And there is no great difference between these two, whether he which hath offended be quite excluded from pardon, or he have only public honor denied him; though it may be that they did both exceed measure, as accidents do oftentimes mar a matter which is otherwise good. It was well done of Paul, and according to the right of discipline profitably, not to admit him to be his companion, whose inconstancy he had once tried, [experienced;] but when he saw Barnabas so importunate, he might have yielded to his desire. We ought to make more account of the truth than of the favor of all the whole world; but it is convenient that we ponder wisely what great weight there is in the matter which is in hand. For if, in a matter of no weight or edification, a man vaunt of his constancy, prepare himself for the conflict, and cease not to defend that until the end, wherein he did once take delight it shall be but foolish and perverse obstinacy. There was also some middle way and means whereby Paul might have granted somewhat to the importunateness of his fellow [colleague] in office, and yet have not revolted from the truth. It was not for him to flatter Mark, or to cloak his offense, yet was he not letted by religion, but that after he had freely professed what he thought, he might suffer himself to be overcome in that matter, which did neither indamage true doctrine, nor endanger man’s salvation; which I say for this cause, that we may learn to moderate our desire, even in the best causes, lest it pass measure, and be too fervent.


Acts 16:1-5

1. And he came to Derbe and Lystra; and, behold, there was there a certain disciple named Timotheus, the son of a certain faithful woman, a Jewess, and his father was a Grecian. 2. He was well reported of by the brethren which were at Lystra and Iconium. 3. Paul would have him to go with him; and when he had taken him he circumcised him, because of those Jews which were in those places. For they all knew that his father was a Grecian. 4. And as they passed through the cities, they delivered to them to be kept the decrees which were decreed by the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5. And so the churches were confirmed in the faith, and abounded in number daily.

1. Luke doth now begin to declare what were the proceedings of Paul after that Barnabas and he were separate. And first he showeth, that he took to his company at Lystra Timothy to be his companion. But, to the end we may know that Paul did nothing rashly, or without good consideration, Luke saith plainly, that Timothy was such a man as the brethren did well like of, and that they gave testimony of his godliness; for thus doth he speak word for word. And so Paul himself observeth the like choice, which he elsewhere commandeth to be made in choosing ministers, (1 Timothy 3: 7.) Neither is it to be thought, that those prophecies did even then come to light wherewith Timothy was set forth and adorned by the Spirit, as Paul doth testify elsewhere, (<540118>1 Timothy 1:18.) But there seemeth to be some disagreement in that, in that Luke saith that Timotheus was well reported of amongst the brethren; and Paul will have him to have a good report of those who are without, who is chosen to be a bishop. I answer, that we must principally look unto the judgment of the godly, as they be sole meet witnesses, and do alone rightly discern well and wisely according to the Spirit of God; and that we ought to attribute no more to the wicked than to blind men. Therefore it appeareth that godliness and holiness of life must be judged according to the will and consent of godly men; that he be counted worthy to be a bishop whom they commend. Notwithstanding, I confess that even this also is required in the second place, that the very infidels be enforced to commend him; lest the Church of God come in danger F1028 of their slanders and evil speaking, if it commit [permit] itself to be governed by men of evil report.

3. He circumcised him, because of the Jews. Luke doth plainly express that Timothy was not circumcised, because it was necessary it should be so, or because the religion of that sign did continue as yet, but that Paul might avoid an offense. Therefore there was respect had of men, whereas the matter was free before God. Wherefore, the circumcising of Timothy was no sacrament, as was that which was given to Abraham and his posterity, (<011713>Genesis 17:13;) but an indifferent ceremony which served only for nourishing of love, and not for any exercise of godliness.

Now, the question is, whether it were lawful for Paul to use a vain sign, whose signification and force was abolished; for it seemeth a vain thing when there is a departure made from the institution of God. But circumcision was commanded by God to continue only until the coming of Christ. To this question I answer, that circumcision did so cease at the coming of Christ, that, notwithstanding the use thereof was not quite abolished by and by; but it continued free, until all men might know that Christ was the end of the law, by the more manifest revelation of the light of the gospel.

And here we must note three degrees. The first is, that the ceremonies of the law were so abolished by the coming of Christ, that they did neither any longer appertain unto the worship of God, neither were they figures of spiritual things, neither was there any necessity to use them. The second is, that the use thereof was free, until the truth of the gospel might more plainly appear. The third, that it was not lawful for the faithful to retain them, save only so far forth as the use thereof served for edification, neither was there any superstition thereby fostered; though that free power to use them, whereof I have spoken, be not without exception, because there was a divers respect to be had of ceremonies. For circumcision was not in the same place wherein the sacrifices were, which were ordained for the purging [expiating] of sins. Wherefore it was lawful for Paul to circumcise Timotheus; it had not been lawful for him to offer a sacrifice for sin. This is, indeed, a general thing, that all the worship of the law did cease at the coming of Christ, (because it was to continue but for a time,) as touching faith and conscience; but concerning the use we must know this, that it is indifferent, and left in the liberty of the godly for a short time, so far as it was not contrary to the confession of faith. We must note the shortness of time whereof I speak, to wit, until the plain manifestation of the Gospel; because some learned men are grossly deceived in this point, who think that circumcision doth yet take place F1029 among the Jews; whereas Paul teacheth, that it is superfluous when we are buried with Christ by baptism, (<510211>Colossians 2:11,12.) It was better and more truly said in the old proverb, That the synagogue was to be buried with honor.

Now it resteth that we declare how far forth the use of circumcision was indifferent. That shall easily appear by the manner of the liberty. Because the calling of the Gentiles was not as yet generally known, it was meet that the Jews should have some prerogative granted them. Therefore, until it might be better known that the adoption was deducted from the lineage and kindred of Abraham unto all the Gentiles, it was lawful, so far as edification did require, to retain the sign of difference. For seeing that Paul would not circumcise Titus, and doth avouch that the same was well done, (<480203>Galatians 2:3,) it followeth that it was not lawful to use this ceremony always and without choice. Therefore they were to have respect unto edification, and unto the public commodity of the Church. Because he could not circumcise Titus, unless he would betray the doctrine F1030 of the Gospel, and lay himself open to the slanders of the adversaries, he abstained from the free use of the ceremony, which he did use in Timotheus, when he saw that it was profitable for the Church. Hereby it doth easily appear what horrible confusion doth reign in Popery. There is there a huge heap of ceremonies, and to what end but that hey may have instead of one veil of the old temple an hundred. God did abrogate those ceremonies which he had commanded, that the truth of the Gospel might shine more clearly. Men durst take upon them to bring in new, and that without keeping any measure. After this came in a wicked surmise, that all these serve for the worship of God. At length followed the devilish confidence of merit. Now, forasmuch as it is evident enough that such ceremonies are neither veils nor sepulchres wherewith Christ is covered, but rather stinking dunghills wherein faith F1031 and religion are choked, those who make the use thereof generally free do ascribe more to the Pope than the Lord granteth to his law. It is to no end to speak of the mass and of such filthiness which contain in themselves manifest idolatry.

They all knew this. Luke telleth us that this was Paul’s drift, to make an entrance for Timotheus unto the Jews, lest they should abhor him as a profane man. They knew all (saith he) that his father was a Grecian. Therefore, because the mothers had no power over their children, they were fully persuaded that he was uncircumcised. Let the readers not here by the way, how miserable the bondage of the people of God was then. Eunice, mother to Timotheus, was one of the small remnant which the very Jews themselves counted a monster, and yet, being married to a man which was an infidel, she durst not consecrate her children to God. No, she durst not so much as give them the external sign of grace, and yet she ceased not therefore to instruct her son of a child holily in the fear of God, and in his true worship—an example surely worthy to be followed of women, whom their husbands affray with their tyrannous government, from keeping and training up their children and families chastely in true godliness. Grecian is taken in this place for a Gentile, after the old and common custom of the Scripture.

4. They delivered them the decrees to keep. In these words Luke doth signify unto us how desirous Paul was of peace. The best and strongest bond to keep and foster peace among the churches, was to keep that which was set down by the apostles. When Paul taketh great pains about that, he taketh great heed lest through his fault there arise any trouble. And let us remember that that continued but for a time. Because, so soon as he seeth the danger of offense cease, he doth quite unburthen the churches, and setting apart the decree, he maketh that free which the apostles had their forbidden. And yet doth he not cancel or violate by that abrogation that which the apostles had decreed, or contemn the authors themselves; because they were not determined to establish a perpetual law, but only to mitigate for a short time that which might hurt weak consciences; as I did more at large declare in the former chapter. Whereby the folly of the Papists is sufficiently refuted, who do grievously lay to our charge that we be far unlike Paul, because we will have the consciences of the godly governed by the Word of God alone, setting light by the decrees of the Church, as they call them, and not to be subject to the will of men. But, as I have already said, Paul meant nothing less than to ensnare men’s consciences in the snare of necessity, for he is not contrary to himself, when he crieth in other places, that

“all things are clean to the clean,” (<560115>Titus 1:15.)

And again,

“He which is clean eateth all things,” (<451402>Romans 14:2.)

And again,

“The kingdom of God is not meat and drink,”

(<451417>Romans 14:17.)

And again,

“Meat doeth not commend us to God,” (<460808>1 Corinthians 8:8.)


“Eat all things which are sold in the shambles, asking no question for conscience sake,” (<461025>1 Corinthians 10:25.)

But in one word he reconcileth those things which might otherwise seem to disagree, when he commanded to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, for another’s man conscience sake. Nevertheless, he taketh great heed that he bind not godly souls with the laws of men.

Therefore we attempt nothing at this day which is contrary to or disagreeing with Paul. But the Papists mock us too grossly when they compare their laws with the decrees of the apostles. The apostles invented no new worship of God, they had erected no new spiritual government; but for the desire they had to maintain peace, they exhorted the Gentiles that they would yield a little to the Jews. Before the Pope can excuse his laws under this color, he must first change them wholly. And as for us, seeing that the Papists do place the spiritual worship of God in man’s inventions, and translate the right which belongeth to God alone unto men, that they may reign as lords over souls; we are enforced manfully to withstand them, unless through treacherous silence we will betray the grace gotten by the blood of Christ. Now, what likelihood can there be between three decrees set down for the help and comfort of the weak, and an infinite heap of laws, which doth not only oppress miserable souls with the weight thereof, but also swallow up faith? We know the complaint of Augustine writing to Januarius, that the Church was wickedly laden even then with too great a burden of traditions. Could he, I pray you, suffer the bondage of these times, which is almost a hundred times harder and heavier?

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texts -> Ante-nicene fathers
texts -> Henry wace, D. D
texts -> Philip schaff, D. D., LL. D., Professor of church history in the union theological seminary, new york. In connection with a number of patristic scholars of europe and america
commentaries -> The book of joshua by john calvin translated from the original latin, and collated with
texts -> Philip schaff, D. D., LL. D., Professor in the union theological seminary, new york. In connection with a number of patristic scholars of europe and america
texts -> Philip schaff, D. D., LL. D., Professor in the union theological seminary, new york. In connection with a number of patristic scholars of europe and america
texts -> Ante-nicene fathers
commentaries -> The acts of the apostles by john calvin edited from the original english translation of

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