Acts 5:17–21 (NA28)
Luke recounts divine intervention on behalf of the apostles. The conflict has broadened; all the apostles are placed in prison, not just Peter and John (cf. 4:3). The narrator winks at the audience when he reports that the apostles are released from prison by an angel, whose very existence the Sadducees deny (see 23:8)
17Ἀναστὰς δὲ ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς καὶ πάντες οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ, ἡ οὖσα αἵρεσις τῶν Σαδδουκαίων, ἐπλήσθησαν ζήλου
Now the high priest rose up and all those (who were) with him, that is the party of the Sadducees, they were filled with jealousy
- With jealousy (ζηλου [zēlou]). Genitive case. Old word from ζεω [zeō], to boil, our zeal. In itself it means only warmth, ardour, zeal, but for a bad cause or from a bad motive, jealousy, envy, rivalry results (Acts 13:45).
- As before, the Sadducees were enraged by the apostles’ preaching. They were described as being “filled with jealousy,” undoubtedly over the tremendous success of the Christian witness (5:15–16). The word translated “jealousy” can also mean zeal, and there may well have been an element of zeal in their determination to stamp out this growing messianic movement before its increasing popularity aroused the concern of the Roman authorities and led to severe reprisals. The high priest was again the spokesman.
18καὶ ἐπέβαλον τὰς χεῖρας ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀποστόλους καὶ ἔθεντο αὐτοὺς ἐν τηρήσει δημοσίᾳ.
And they laid hands on the apostle and put them in the public prision
- The initiative against the apostles was again taken by the high priest and the Sadducean group in the Sanhedrin (4:1); the Pharisaic group, represented by Gamaliel, does not appear until later in the narrative. The motive of the Sadducees is said to be jealousy, i.e. irritation at the success of the church (13:45; it is just possible, however, that here the word zēlos means ‘religious zeal’ directed against opponents of the Jewish traditional religion; cf. Phil. 3:6). They seized the apostles and put them in prison.
- One should not miss the irony of their being placed in the public jail, i.e., openly and for everyone to see. Soon they would be unable to find these very ones who were so openly placed in jail.
19Ἄγγελος δὲ κυρίου διὰ νυκτὸς ἀνοίξας τὰς θύρας τῆς φυλακῆς ἐξαγαγών τε αὐτοὺς εἶπεν·
Now an angel of the Lord, during the night, opened the doors of the prison and led them out and said,
- During the night the apostles escaped from the prison. Their release is ascribed to an angel of the Lord. This is an Old Testament figure (7:30, 38) who also appears in the New Testament to bring important messages (Luke 1:11; 2:9) or to perform miraculous acts (8:26; 12:7, 23). Luke certainly regards the incident as miraculous, or at least he presents it in this manner. Stories of doors opening miraculously and prisoners’ fetters being loosed are common enough in the ancient world, but this proves nothing regarding the historicity of this particular incident.
- The phrase “an angel of the Lord” for a heavenly messenger occurs several times in Acts (5:19; 7:30 [D 33 1739 ]; 8:26; 12:7, 23; cf. 7:38; 12:11; cf. “angel of God” [10:3; 27:23]) and elsewhere in the NT. It reproduces the common OT designation for God’s agents.
20πορεύεσθε καὶ σταθέντες λαλεῖτε ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τῷ λαῷ πάντα τὰ ῥήματα τῆς ζωῆς ταύτης.
“go and stand and proclaim in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”
- All the words of this life (παντα τα ῥηματα της ζωης ταυτης [panta ta rhēmata tēs zōēs tautēs]). Not just a Hebraism for “all these words of life.” Probably “this life” which the Sadducees deny and of which the angel is now speaking, this eternal life. (John 6:63, 68; 1 Cor. 15:19).
- The angel acts as the spokesman of God in commanding the apostles to go and speak in the temple all the words of this Life. The temple was the appropriate place for such proclamation, not only because it was a well-frequented place but above all because it was the place where God had chosen to make himself known to the people of Israel. The phrase all the words of this Life is similar to ‘the message of this salvation’ (13:26; in Syriac ‘life’ and ‘salvation’ are rendered by the same word). The use of this is odd (cf. 22:4), but is perhaps simply a Lucan trick of style.
- The miraculous escape of the apostles is told with the greatest economy here. In vv. 21b–26 it will be retold in far greater detail. The emphasis is placed on the total helplessness of the Jewish authorities.
21ἀκούσαντες δὲ εἰσῆλθον ὑπὸ τὸν ὄρθρον εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν καὶ ἐδίδασκον. Παραγενόμενος δὲ ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ συνεκάλεσαν τὸ συνέδριον καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γερουσίαν τῶν υἱῶν Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ἀπέστειλαν εἰς τὸ δεσμωτήριον ἀχθῆναι αὐτούς.
Hearing this, at daybreak, they entered into the temple and began teaching. Now the high priest arrived and those his associates, they summoned the Sanhedrin and the whole council of elders of the sons of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
- The temple doors would be open for early worshippers and traffickers (John 2:14).
- Although it was still early, the apostles found an audience in the temple; this is by no means surprising, since daily activity began quite early. It was, however, too soon for news to reach the members of the Sanhedrin. The council and all the senate of Israel is a hendiadys, only one body being meant. It is not certainly known where the council chamber was situated, but it was probably not within the temple precincts.
- The scene shifts to the Council chambers where the Sanhedrin had gathered for its morning session. The first item on the agenda was the interrogation of the apostles; so officers were sent to the jail to fetch them.