Hebrew: In the Christian Greek Scriptures, inspired Bible writers used the term “Hebrew” in designating the language spoken by the Jews (Joh 19:13, 17, 20; Ac 21:40; 22:2; Re 9:11; 16:16), as well as the language in which the resurrected and glorified Jesus addressed Saul of Tarsus (Ac 26:14, 15). At Ac 6:1, “Hebrew-speaking Jews” are distinguished from “Greek-speaking Jews.” While some scholars hold that the term “Hebrew” in these references should instead be rendered “Aramaic,” there is good reason to believe that the term actually applies to the Hebrew language. When the physician Luke says that Paul spoke to the people of Jerusalem “in the Hebrew language,” Paul was addressing those whose life revolved around studying the Law of Moses in Hebrew. Also, of the great number of fragments and manuscripts comprising the Dead Sea Scrolls, the majority of Biblical and non-Biblical texts are written in Hebrew, showing that the language was in daily use. The smaller number of Aramaic fragments found shows that both languages were used. So it seems highly unlikely that when Bible writers used the word “Hebrew,” they actually meant the Aramaic or Syrian language. (Ac 21:40; 22:2; compare Ac 26:14.) The Hebrew Scriptures earlier distinguished between “Aramaic” and “the language of the Jews” (2Ki 18:26), and first-century Jewish historian Josephus, considering this passage of the Bible, speaks of “Aramaic” and “Hebrew” as distinct tongues. (Jewish Antiquities, X, 8 [i, 2]) It is true that there are some terms that are quite similar in both Aramaic and Hebrew and possibly other terms that were adopted into Hebrew from Aramaic. However, there seems to be no reason for the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures to have said Hebrew if they meant Aramaic.
in the Hebrew language: See study note on Joh 5:2.
Gamaliel: A Law teacher mentioned twice in Acts, here and at Ac 22:3. He is thought to be Gamaliel the Elder, as he is known in non-Biblical sources. Gamaliel was the grandson, or possibly the son, of Hillel the Elder, who is credited with developing a more liberal school of thought among the Pharisees. Gamaliel was so highly esteemed among the people that he is said to be the first to be called by the honorific title “Rabban.” Therefore, he greatly influenced the Jewish society of his time by training many sons of Pharisees, such as Saul of Tarsus. (Ac 22:3; 23:6; 26:4, 5; Ga 1:13, 14) He often interpreted the Law and traditions in a way that appears to have been comparatively broad-minded. For example, he is said to have enacted laws protecting wives against unprincipled husbands and defending widows against unprincipled children. He is also said to have argued that poor non-Jews should have the same gleaning rights as poor Jews. This tolerant attitude is evident in the way Gamaliel treated Peter and the other apostles. (Ac 5:35-39) Rabbinic records show, however, that Gamaliel placed greater emphasis on rabbinic tradition than on the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, on the whole, his teachings were similar to those of most of his rabbinic forefathers and the religious leaders of his day.—Mt 15:3-9; 2Ti 3:16, 17; see Glossary, “Pharisees”; “Sanhedrin.”
their Sanhedrin hall: Or “their Sanhedrin.” The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court in Jerusalem. The Greek word rendered “Sanhedrin hall” or “Sanhedrin” (sy·neʹdri·on) literally means a “sitting down with.” Although it was a general term for an assembly or a meeting, in Israel it could refer to a religious judicial body or court. The Greek word can refer to the people making up the court itself or to the building or location of the court.—See study note on Mt 5:22 and Glossary, “Sanhedrin”; see also App. B12 for the possible location of the Sanhedrin Hall.
assembly of elders: Or “council (body) of elders.” The Greek word pre·sby·teʹri·on used here is related to the term pre·sbyʹte·ros (lit., “older man”), which in the Bible refers primarily to those who hold a position of authority and responsibility in a community or a nation. Although the term sometimes refers to physical age (as at Lu 15:25 and Ac 2:17), it is not limited to those who are elderly. The expression “assembly of elders” here apparently refers to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court in Jerusalem, which was made up of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. These three groups are often mentioned together.—Mt 16:21; 27:41; Mr 8:31; 11:27; 14:43, 53; 15:1; Lu 9:22; 20:1; see study note on Lu 22:66.
the Nazarene: A descriptive epithet applied to Jesus and later to his followers. (Ac 24:5) Since many Jews had the name Jesus, it was common to add a further identification; the practice of associating people with the places from which they came was customary in Bible times. (2Sa 3:2, 3; 17:27; 23:25-39; Na 1:1; Ac 13:1; 21:29) Jesus lived most of his early life in the town of Nazareth in Galilee, so it was natural to use this term regarding him. Jesus was often referred to as “the Nazarene,” in different situations and by various individuals. (Mr 1:23, 24; 10:46, 47; 14:66-69; 16:5, 6; Lu 24:13-19; Joh 18:1-7) Jesus himself accepted the name and used it. (Joh 18:5-8; Ac 22:6-8) On the sign that Pilate placed on the torture stake, he wrote in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek: “Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.” (Joh 19:19, 20) From Pentecost 33 C.E. onward, the apostles as well as others often spoke of Jesus as the Nazarene or as being from Nazareth.—Ac 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:38; 26:9; see also study note on Mt 2:23.
the Nazarene: See study note on Mr 10:47.
hearing . . . the sound of a voice: At Ac 22:6-11, Paul himself describes his experience on the road to Damascus. That account taken together with this account gives the full picture of what happened. The Greek words used in both accounts are the same, but the grammar is different. The Greek term pho·neʹ could be rendered both “sound” and “voice.” Here it is in the genitive case and is therefore rendered “the sound of a voice.” (At Ac 22:9, the same Greek word is in the accusative case and is rendered “voice.”) So the men accompanying Paul heard the sound of a voice but apparently could not hear and understand the words spoken. So they did not hear the voice the way Paul did.—Ac 26:14; see study note on Ac 22:9.
they did not hear the voice: Or “they did not understand the voice.” At Ac 9:3-9, Luke describes Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. These two accounts taken together give the full picture of what happened. As explained in the study note on Ac 9:7, the men accompanying Paul heard “the sound of a voice” but apparently did not understand the words spoken. Thus, they did not hear the voice the way Paul did. This is in agreement with how the Greek word for “hear” is used at Ac 22:7, where Paul explains that he “heard a voice,” that is, he heard and understood the words. By contrast, those traveling with Paul did not understand the message being conveyed to Paul, perhaps because the voice was muffled or distorted in some way. It is apparently in this sense that “they did not hear the voice.”—Compare Mr 4:33; 1Co 14:2, where the same Greek word for “hear” could be rendered “to listen” or “to understand.”
regain your sight!: Lit., “look up!” The Greek word basically means “to direct one’s vision upward” (Mt 14:19; Lu 19:5), but it can also refer to gaining sight for the first time (Joh 9:11, 15, 18) or to having one’s sight restored (Mr 10:52; Lu 18:42; Ac 9:12).
calls on the name of Jehovah: Calling on Jehovah’s name is broad in meaning and involves more than just knowing and using God’s personal name. The expression “to call on [someone’s] name” has its background in the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul is here quoting from Joe 2:32, where the context stresses true repentance and trust in Jehovah’s forgiveness. (Joe 2:12, 13) At Pentecost 33 C.E., Peter quoted the same prophecy of Joel and exhorted his listeners to repent and take action to secure Jehovah’s approval. (Ac 2:21, 38) Other contexts show that calling on God’s name involves knowing God, trusting in him, and looking to him for help and guidance. (Ps 20:7; 99:6; 116:4; 145:18) In some contexts, calling on the name of Jehovah can mean declaring his name and qualities. (Ge 12:8; compare Ex 34:5, where the same Hebrew expression is rendered “declared the name of Jehovah.”) In the verse that follows Ro 10:13, Paul connects calling on God with putting faith in him.—Ro 10:14.
wash your sins away by your calling on his name: A person will have his sins washed away, not by the baptismal water itself, but by calling on the name of Jesus. Doing this involves putting faith in Jesus and demonstrating that faith by Christian works.—Ac 10:43; Jas 2:14, 18; see study note on Ro 10:13.
a trance: The Greek word ekʹsta·sis (from ek, meaning “out of,” and staʹsis, meaning “standing”) refers to a person’s being cast out of his normal state of mind because of amazement, astonishment, or a vision from God. The Greek word is rendered “ecstasy” (Mr 5:42), “amazement” (Lu 5:26), and “overwhelmed with emotion” (Mr 16:8). In the book of Acts, the word is connected with divine action. Apparently, the holy spirit would, at times, superimpose on a person’s mind a vision or a picture of God’s purpose while the person was in a state of deep concentration or a sleeplike condition. An individual in a trance would be oblivious of his physical surroundings and would be receptive to a vision.—See study note on Ac 22:17.
I fell into a trance: For a discussion of the Greek term ekʹsta·sis, here rendered “a trance,” see study note on Ac 10:10. Some translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Hebrew (referred to as J14, 17, 22 in App. C4) read: “Jehovah’s hand was upon me.” Another translation (referred to as J18) reads: “Jehovah’s spirit clothed me.”
witnesses of me: As faithful Jews, Jesus’ early disciples were already witnesses of Jehovah, and they testified that Jehovah is the only true God. (Isa 43:10-12; 44:8) Now, though, the disciples were to be witnesses of both Jehovah and Jesus. They were to make known Jesus’ vital role in sanctifying Jehovah’s name by means of His Messianic Kingdom, a new feature of Jehovah’s purpose. With the exception of John’s Gospel, Acts uses the Greek terms for “witness” (marʹtys), “to bear witness” (mar·ty·reʹo), “to bear thorough witness” (di·a·mar·tyʹro·mai), and related words more times than any other Bible book. (See study note on Joh 1:7.) The idea of being a witness and bearing thorough witness about God’s purposes—including his Kingdom and Jesus’ vital role—is a theme that runs through the book of Acts. (Ac 2:32, 40; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 8:25; 10:39; 13:31; 18:5; 20:21, 24; 22:20; 23:11; 26:16; 28:23) Some first-century Christians bore witness to, or confirmed, historical facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from their firsthand knowledge. (Ac 1:21, 22; 10:40, 41) Those who later put faith in Jesus bore witness by proclaiming the significance of his life, death, and resurrection.—Ac 22:15; see study note on Joh 18:37.
your witness: The Greek term for “witness,” marʹtys, refers to one who observes a deed or an event. From firsthand knowledge, some first-century Christians could bear witness to, or confirm, historical facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. (Ac 1:21, 22; 10:40, 41) Those who later put faith in Jesus could bear witness by proclaiming the significance of his life, death, and resurrection. (Ac 22:15) Speaking to Jesus, Paul used the word in this sense when he called Stephen “your witness.” Before the Sanhedrin, Stephen had given a powerful testimony about Jesus. Stephen was also the first to bear witness that he had seen, in a special vision, Jesus returned to heaven and standing at the right hand of God, as prophesied at Ps 110:1. (Ac 7:55, 56) Christian witnessing often meant facing opposition, arrest, beatings, and even death, as in the case of Stephen, James, and others. Accordingly, the Greek term marʹtys later came to signify “one who witnesses at the cost of his life, martyr,” that is, one who suffers death rather than renounce his faith. In this sense, Stephen became the first Christian martyr, whose blood . . . was being spilled because of the testimony he gave about Christ.—See study note on Ac 1:8.
military commander: The Greek term khi·liʹar·khos (chiliarch) literally means “ruler of a thousand,” that is, soldiers. It refers to a Roman military commander called a tribune. There were six tribunes in each Roman legion. The legion, however, was not divided into six different commands; rather, each tribune commanded the whole legion for one sixth of the time. Such a military commander had great authority, including the power to nominate and assign centurions. The Greek word could also refer to high-ranking military officers in general. A Roman military commander accompanied the soldiers who arrested Jesus.
military commander: The Greek term khi·liʹar·khos (chiliarch) literally means “ruler of a thousand,” that is, soldiers. It refers to a Roman military commander called a tribune. (See study note on Joh 18:12.) In about 56 C.E., Claudius Lysias was the military commander of the Jerusalem garrison. (Ac 23:22, 26) As recounted in Acts chapters 21-24, he was the one who rescued Paul both from the street mob and from the rioting Sanhedrin and who wrote a letter of explanation to Governor Felix when Paul was secretly taken to Caesarea.
we are Romans: That is, Roman citizens. Paul and apparently also Silas were Roman citizens. Roman law stated that a citizen was always entitled to a proper trial and was never to be punished in public uncondemned. Roman citizenship entitled a person to certain rights and privileges wherever he went in the empire. A Roman citizen was subject to Roman law, not to the laws of provincial cities. When accused, he could agree to be tried according to local law; yet, he still retained the right to be heard by a Roman tribunal. In the case of a capital offense, he had the right to appeal to the emperor. The apostle Paul preached extensively throughout the Roman Empire. He made use of his rights as a Roman citizen on three recorded occasions. The first is here in Philippi when he informed the Philippian magistrates that they had infringed on his rights by beating him.—For the other two occasions, see study notes on Ac 22:25; 25:11.
I appeal to Caesar!: In the Bible record, this is the third time that Paul made use of his rights as a Roman citizen. (For the other two occasions, see study notes on Ac 16:37; 22:25.) Such an appeal to Caesar could be made either after the pronouncement of judgment or at any earlier point in the trial. Festus gave evidence of not wanting to decide the matter himself, and a trial in Jerusalem held virtually no hope of justice. So Paul made this formal petition to be judged by the highest court of the empire. It appears that in some cases the appeal could be denied, for example, in the case of a thief, a pirate, or a seditionist caught in the act. Likely for this reason, Festus conferred with “the assembly of counselors” before admitting the appeal. (Ac 25:12) The subsequent hearing with the visiting Herod Agrippa II was held in order that Festus might have clearer information to submit when transmitting Paul’s case to “the August One,” Nero. (Ac 25:12-27; 26:32; 28:19) Paul’s appeal also served the purpose of taking him to Rome, fulfilling an intention expressed earlier. (Ac 19:21) Jesus’ prophetic promise to Paul as well as the angelic message that he later received shows divine direction in the matter.—Ac 23:11; 27:23, 24.
the army officer: Or “the centurion.” A centurion was in command of about 100 soldiers in the Roman army.
a Roman: That is, a Roman citizen. This is the second of three recorded instances in which Paul made use of his rights as a Roman citizen. Roman authorities usually interfered little in Jewish affairs. However, the Romans got involved in Paul’s case not only because a riot erupted when he visited the temple but also because he was a Roman citizen. Citizenship afforded a person certain privileges that were recognized and honored throughout the empire. It was illegal, for example, to bind or beat an uncondemned Roman, since such treatment was considered fit for slaves only.—For the other two occasions, see study notes on Ac 16:37; 25:11.
purchased these rights as a citizen: Or “purchased this citizenship.” As this account shows, under certain circumstances, it was possible to obtain Roman citizenship for a sum of money. Paul told Claudius Lysias that he (Paul) had the rights as a citizen by birth, which indicates that one of Paul’s male ancestors must have acquired citizenship. There were other ways to acquire Roman citizenship. An individual or even the entire free population of a city or district could receive a form of it as an award from the emperor. A slave could gain it after he bought his freedom from or was set free by a Roman citizen. A veteran of the auxiliary forces who was discharged from the Roman army would be granted it. And a person could also inherit citizenship. It is unlikely that there were many Roman citizens who lived in Judea in the first century C.E. Only in the third century C.E. were all provincial subjects given Roman citizenship.
In the first century C.E., the city of Damascus likely had a layout similar to what is shown here. It was an important center for trade, and water drawn from the nearby Barada River (the Abanah of 2Ki 5:12) made the area around the city like an oasis. Damascus had a number of synagogues. Saul came to that city intending to arrest “any whom he found who belonged to The Way,” an expression used to describe the followers of Jesus. (Ac 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:22) On the road to Damascus, however, the glorified Jesus appeared to Saul. After that, Saul stayed for a time in Damascus at the house of a man named Judas, who lived on the street called Straight. (Ac 9:11) In a vision, Jesus directed the disciple Ananias to Judas’ house to restore Saul’s sight, and Saul later got baptized. So instead of arresting the Jewish Christians, Saul became one of them. He began his career as a preacher of the good news in the synagogues of Damascus. After traveling to Arabia and then back to Damascus, Saul returned to Jerusalem, likely about the year 36 C.E.—Ac 9:1-6, 19-22; Ga 1:16, 17.
1. Road to Jerusalem
2. Street called Straight
4. Temple of Jupiter
6. Musical Performance Theater (?)
Seventy-one members constituted the Jewish high court called the Great Sanhedrin. It was located in Jerusalem. (See Glossary, “Sanhedrin.”) According to the Mishnah, the seating was arranged in a semicircle three rows deep, and two scribes were present to record the court’s rulings. Some of the architectural features shown here are based on a structure discovered in Jerusalem that is considered by some to be the Council Chamber from the first century.—See Appendix B12, map “Jerusalem and Surrounding Area.”
1. High priest
2. Members of the Sanhedrin
3. A defendant