Sunday, 9 January 2022
And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” Acts 4:7
All of those leaders necessary to establish the authority of the tribunal have been named in the previous two verses. They were specifically noted as being “together at Jerusalem.” The seat of national power and authority has gathered together. It is an opportunity to repent and turn from their previous actions. The account to be presented will detail this. For now, with these gathered together, Luke next notes, “And when they had set them in the midst.”
Charles Ellicott notes, “The Sanhedrin sat in a semi-circle, the president being in the middle of the arc, the accused standing in the centre.” This would be a rather intimidating thing. Being encircled by the leaders, and with guards stationed around them as well, there would be every reason to be timid and to quickly acquiesce by even the strongest of rebellious souls. With this in mind, “they asked.”
The verb is imperfect. Rather than, “they asked,” it more appropriately says, “they were asking.” One gets the sense of an interrogation being conducted and various people speaking out the same thing again and again. This doesn’t necessarily mean an unorderly questioning, but a repeated one. This occurred when Christ healed a blind man –
“Then they said to him again, ‘What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?’
27 He answered them, ‘I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?’” John 9:26, 27
This is the same sense now. They asked and they kept on asking, trying to find a hole in the story of the apostles. And their question is, “By what power.” The Greek reads, “In what power.” There is a power that exists, and that power has extended to the apostles. As a man does not possess such power in and of himself, it is understood that the power they wield comes from a source external to them, even if it now comes through them.
It is similar to the question put before Christ as he stood before the leaders in the temple –
“Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By [literally: “in”] what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?’” Matthew 21:23
It is understood that authority bestows power. They understood that Christ Jesus bore the power. Therefore, the question presented to Him asked of the authority that granted the power. Here, in Acts, the leaders are simply first asking what kind of power was possessed by the men. Next, they ask, “or by what name.”
Again, the Greek reads, “or in what name.” This is the same as when Jesus was asked, “By [literally: “in”] what authority.” A name is to be taken synonymously with the authority. If a king calls for someone to be arrested or executed, it is in his name that this occurs. His name is the legal authority for the action.
The leaders are trying to determine the source of what has occurred, but the question is put in a most derogative manner. This is seen in the final words where the English does not convey the sense of the Greek, “have you done this?”
The order of the words in the Greek is, “did this you.” First, the explanation for the word “this” is left off. Instead of saying, “did this miracle,” or “did this sign,” it simply says “this.” There is a note of contempt for those through whom the miracle was accomplished.
Secondly, the question ending with “you” is a way of heaping contempt on them. A long and flowery paraphrase may help convey the meaning – “You? You are country hicks from Galilee. And you did this? C’mon, tell us the story! We’re surprised you can even feed yourselves. So how did YOU do this?”
Life application: When talking about sharing the gospel, there is often the sense from one of the people in the conversation that they are “just not good at it.” This may mean a multitude of things, but one of them is, “I am just not an effective speaker.” Another may be, “I get intimidated by the people I want to talk to.”
Such things should be entirely erased from the mind. The gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is not, the power of (insert your name here). It is the power of God. What is there to be intimidated over? What is there that you cannot effectively speak forth?
All you need to do is to remember the simple gospel, be able to explain it, and let it be accepted or rejected by the one who hears. A child can do this because even a child can understand what the gospel signifies. Be bold about the power of God that is found in the gospel. Be willing to speak it forth! And then, when you have done your job, find someone else to tell it to.
Lord God, may we be bold in the proclamation of that which contains your power to save. May we be willing to simply speak forth the gospel as responsible members of Your church. Give us the desire and strength of character to do so. Amen.