Saturday, 16 July 2022
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest Acts 9:1
The previous verse closed out Chapter 8, explaining how Philip was found at Azotus, and how he preached in all the cities until he came to Caesarea. With that noted, the narrative now returns to its focus that also began in Chapter 8. And so, with the intervening verses about the work of the apostles complete, Luke begins Chapter 9 with, “Then Saul.” He was last mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 8, saying –
“Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” Acts 8:1-3
Saul was bloodthirsty as Chapter 8 began, and nothing has changed in his demeanor with this new chapter, as Luke notes that he was “still breathing threats and murder.”
The Greek word translated as “breathing” is found only here, empneó. It signifies “to inhale.” Ironically, the KJV translated it just the opposite and incorrectly says, “breathing out.” It is the “element from which he drew his breath” (Thayer’s). Also, the Greek word translated as “threats” is singular, not plural. As such, the words should read that he was “still breathing in threat and murder.” The very breath that he inhaled animated him into a ravaging animal “against the disciples of the Lord.”
Paul later acknowledges this conduct during his trial before King Agrippa in Acts 26 –
“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Acts 26:9-11
As for his statement that he “received authority from the chief priests,” that is next recorded by Luke, saying he “went to the high priest.” The verb is an aorist participle and should read, “having gone to the high priest.” That sets up the continued words of the coming verse. For now, Paul has gone to the high priest with a purpose and intent. All of this is leading to the greatest moment of his life, and one that will affect the lives of billions of people in the millennia to come.
Life application: Understanding the meaning behind the words used in the biblical narrative can really give you a sense of what is actually going on in the mind of the person being described. For example, the word above, empneó, is from en (in) and pneó (to breathe). Think about how different translations change your mind about what is being said –
Breathing out murderous threats (NIV).
Breathing out threats and murder (BLB).
Uttering threats with every breath (NLT).
Breathing threats and murder (BSB).
Breathing threatening and slaughter (ASV).
Full of menace and the fury of murder (Aramaic).
Spewing death threats (ISV).
Whose every breath was a threat of destruction (Weymouth).
Breathing in threat and murder (CG).
Most of these are outwardly directed. You would think that Paul is coming against the people and yelling out to them how he was going to destroy them. Many of them have “threats” in the plural. That gives the sense of repeated threats as if it is going on and on. The NIV (and others) combine the two separate words (threat and murder) into one that describes the other. Each of these will change your perception of what is going on.
However, in understanding the meaning of the base words that form the new word, it being from en (in) and pneó (to breathe), you can then see that even if Paul’s actions are directed toward others, the impulse behind them is something that is first animating him to be that way. This is the root of Paul’s problem. Until that is cured, there can be no change in him. The very breath that animates him is angry and hostile. As this is so, it will then be that way when he breathes out as well.
Don’t be afraid to do word studies. In fact, take time to do so. The richness of the source of words can completely change your perception of what is actually being conveyed. Translators do their best to convey intent, but unless they are willing to do such word studies (a somewhat time-consuming and laborious task), they may not convey to you what is actually going on. And so, take time to do your own studies if a particular passage especially appeals to you. It is well worth the time you put into it.
Lord God, what a wonderful treasure Your word is. It is rich and alive and filled with magnificent insights about the nature of man, the corrective measures for his defects, and how You apply those measures to mold us into Your image. Help us to seek out the riches of Your word all the days of our lives. Amen.