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Calvin's Commentaries 

 Acts 11:22-30


22. And the tidings of them came unto the ears of the Church which was at Jerusalem: and they sent Barnabas, that he might go to Antioch. 23. Who, when he was come, and [had] seen the grace of God, he rejoiced, and did exhort all, that with purpose of heart they would continue cleaving to the Lord. 24. Because he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and faith. And there was a great multitude added unto the Lord.



22. And the tidings. If this report had been brought before Peter did excuse himself, those good men should have been reproved of many whose ministry notwithstanding God had sealed with the grace of his Spirit; but that superstition was now wiped away out of their minds, forasmuch as God had by evident signs declared that no nation ought to be counted profane. Therefore, they contend no longer, neither do they count it a point of rashness, that some durst preach Christ unto the Gentiles; but by sending help, they testify that they allow that which they had done. Furthermore, this was the cause why they sent Barnabas. The apostles did at that time bear all the burden of the kingdom of Christ; therefore, it was their duty to frame and set in order Churches every where; to keep all the faithful, wheresoever dispersed, in the pure consent of faith; to appoint ministers and pastors wheresoever there was any number of the faithful. The crafty wiliness of Satan is well known. So soon as he seeth a gate set open for the gospel, he endeavoreth by all means to corrupt that which is sincere, [pure;] whereby it came to pass that divers heresies brake out together with Christ’s doctrine. Therefore, the greater gifts every Church hath, the more careful ought it to be, lest Satan mix or trouble any thing amongst the ignorant, and those who are not as yet established in the right faith; because it is the easiest matter in the world to corrupt corn in the blade. To conclude, Barnabas was sent to bring them farther forward in the principles of faith; to set things in some certain order; to give the building which was begun some form, that there might be a lawful state of the Church.


23. When he had seen the grace of God. By these words Luke teacheth, first, that the gospel which they had received was true; secondly, that Barnabas sought nothing else but the glory of Christ. For, when he saith that he saw the grace of God, and that he exhorted them to go forward, hereby we gather that they were well taught. And the joy is a testimony of sincere godliness.


Ambition is evermore envious and malicious; so that we see many seek for praise by reproving other men, because they are more desirous of their own glory than of the glory of Christ. But the faithful servants of Christ must rejoice (as did Barnabas) when they see the gospel increase, by whomsoever God shall make his name known. And assuredly those which help one another, so that they acknowledge that all the effect which springeth thence is the work of God, will never envy one another, neither will they seek to carp [at] one another, but will, with one mouth and mind, praise the power of God.


Again, this is worth the noting, that Luke doth attribute the faith of the men of Antioch, and whatsoever was worthy [of] praise there, to the grace of God. He might have reckoned up all those virtues which might make for the commendation of men; but he comprehendeth what excellence soever was in that Church under this word grace. Lastly, we must note Barnabas’ exhortation. We have already said that Barnabas did subscribe to the former doctrine which they had embraced; but lest doctrine fall away, it is most requisite that it be thoroughly imprinted in the minds of the faithful by continual exhortations. For seeing that we have to encounter continually with so many and such strong adversaries, and our minds are so slippery, unless every man arm himself diligently, it will by and by fall away, which thing infinite numbers do show to be true by their falling away. Whereas he setteth down this manner of perseverance, that they continue with purpose of heart we are hereby taught that faith hath taken deep root then when it hath a place in the heart. Wherefore it is no marvel, if scarce one of ten of those who profess faith do stand unto the end, seeing that very few know what the affection and purpose of heart meaneth.


24. For he was a good man. Barnabas is commended with the commendation of the Holy Ghost; yet we must know that there was respect had not so much of him as of us. For all those are condemned of ungodliness and malice who envy other men’s labors, and are grieved when they see the same have good success.


Also we must note the epithet used in the description of a good man, full of the Holy Ghost, full of faith. For after that he had said that he was an upright and good man, he showed from what fountain this goodness did flow; that, abandoning the affections of the flesh, he did, with all his heart, embrace godliness, having the Spirit to be his guide. But why doth he separate faith from the Spirit, whose gift it is? I answer, that it is not named severally, as if it were a diverse thing, but it is rather set forth as a principal token, whereby it might appear that Barnabas was full of the Holy Ghost.


There was a great multitude added. Though the number of the godly was already great, yet Luke saith that it was increased by Barnabas’ coming. Thus doth the building of the Church go forward when one doth help another with mutual consent, and one doth gently allow [Candide... probat,” candidly approves.] that which another hath begun.




25. And Barnabas went to Tarsus to seek Saul: 26. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it happened that they lived a whole year in the church, and did teach a great multitude; so that at Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.



25. Barnabas’ simplicity is commended to us now the second time, that whereas he might have borne the chiefest swing at Antioch, yet went he into Cilicia that he might fet [fetch] Paul thence, who he knew should be preferred before him. Therefore we see how, forgetting himself, he respecteth nothing but that Christ may be chief; how he setteth before his eyes the edifying of the Church alone; how he is content with the prosperous success of the gospel. Therefore, Barnabas is no whit afraid lest Paul do any whit debase him by his coming, so he glorify Christ.


26. He addeth afterward, that such a holy concord was blessed from heaven; for this was no small honor that the holy name of Christians began there for all the whole world. Though the apostles had been long time at Jerusalem, yet God had not vouchsafed to bestow upon his Church, which was there, this excellent title of his Son. Whether it were because at Antioch much people was grown together into one body, as well of Jews as of Gentiles, or whether it were because the Church might be better ordered in time of peace; or because they were more bold to confess their faith, there were in very deed Christians both at Jerusalem and also in Samaria before that time; and we know that Jerusalem was the first fountain from which Christianity did flow. [Note: “Verum fuisse fontem ex quo primum fluxit Christanismus,” was the true fountain from which Christianity did first flow.] And what is it else to be a disciple of Christ but to be a Christian? But when they began plainly to be called that which they were the use of the name served greatly to set forth the glory of Christ, because by this means they referred all their religion unto Christ alone. This was, therefore, a most excellent worship for the city of Antioch. that Christ brought forth his name thence like a standard, whereby it might be made known to all the world that there was some people whose captain was Christ, and which did glory in his name.


But and if Rome had such a color of [pretext for] pride, who were able to suffer the proud boastings of the Pope and his adherents? They would then, not without cause, thunder out that Rome is the mother and head of all Churches; but it is well, that seeing they challenge to themselves whatsoever, when they come to the matter, they are found altogether vain; yea, Antioch itself doth plainly prove that the estate of one place is not continual. Admit we grant the Romans these plausible titles, we have been sometimes, [we once were,] shall they yet be so bold as to take one-half of that which belongeth to Antioch? And is the dignity of Antioch the greater now, because the Christians had their name thence? Yea, it is rather a manifest mirror of the horrible vengeance of God. For, seeing there is nothing to be seen there but evil favored wastiness, [Deformen vasitatem,” hideous devastation.] it remaineth that we learn to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and that we know that unthankful men have not so much liberty granted them that they may freely mock God.




27. In those days came prophets from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28. And one of them, named Agabus, arose, and signified by the Spirit, that there should be a great famine throughout the whole world, which happened under Claudius Caesar. 29. And as every one of the disciples was able, they decreed every man to send succor to the brethren which dwelt in Judea. 30. Which thing they did, sending it unto the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.



27. Luke commendeth in this place the faith of the men of Antioch by the fruit, because they endeavored to relieve the poverty of that church, from whence they received the gospel, with their abundance; and that did they unrequested. Such earnest care for the brethren doth sufficiently declare how seriously they worshipped Christ, the head of all. Luke doth signify that the fame of that church was spread abroad, when he saith that there came excellent men thither from Jerusalem. But forasmuch as the word prophet is taken divers ways in the New Testament as we may learn by the former Epistle to the Corinthians, those are called prophets in this place who were endued with the gift of prophesying, as the four daughters of Philip shall have the same title given them hereafter. And forasmuch as the foretelling of the famine is attributed to Agabus alone, we may hereby gather that this was granted to every one by a certain measure to know things to come.


28. He signified by the Spirit. Luke doth plainly express that the Spirit of God was the author of this prophecy, that we may know that it was not a conjecture taken by the stars, or some other natural causes; again, that Agabus did not play the philosopher after the manner of men, but he uttered that which God had appointed by the secret inspiration of the Spirit. Barrenness may indeed be sometimes foretold by the disposition of the stars, but there is no certainty in such foretellings, both because of the opposite concourses, and also, especially, because God doth govern earthly things at his pleasure, far otherwise than can be gathered by the stars, that he may lead men away from the perverse beholding of stars. And although these foretellings have their degree, yet the prophecies of the Spirit do far exceed them. But it seemeth that the foretelling of the famine was unlucky, [of evil omen,] and not to be wished for; for to what end was it for men to be made miserable before their time, by having the unhappy event foretold? I answer, that there be many causes for which it is expedient that men should be warned before in time when the judgments of God hang over their heads, and punishments [are] due to their sins. I omit others which are usual [Note: Passim occurrunt,” everywhere occur, are everywhere mentioned.] in the prophets, because [viz. that] they have a space granted wherein to repent, that they may prevent God’s judgment, who have provoked his wrath against themselves; because [that] the faithful are instructed in time to arm themselves with patience; because [that] the obstinate wickedness of wicked men is convict; because [that] both good and evil learn that miseries do not come by chance, but that they are punishments wherewith God doth punish the sins of the world; because [that] those are awakened out of their sleep and sluggishness by this means, who took great delight in their vices. The profit of this present prophecy appeareth by the text, because the men of Antioch were thereby pricked forward to relieve their brethren which were in misery.

Which happened under Claudius. Suetonius also maketh mention of this famine, who saith that there were crusts or shards thrown at Claudius’ head in the midst of the market and that he was so sore afraid of stoning, that he had a singular care afterward, during his whole life, to make provision for victual. And Josephus, in his Fifteenth Book of Antiquity, saith, that Judea was sore oppressed with scarcity, by reason of continual drought.


29. But here ariseth a question, seeing that the misery was common to all, why ought they rather to have succored one people than all the rest? I answer, that forasmuch as Judea was impoverished with great destructions of wars and other miseries, the men of Antioch were not without cause more moved with the miseries of the brethren which were there; secondly, the greater the rage of the enemies was, the more wretched was the estate of the brethren. Finally, Paul doth sufficiently declare, in the Epistle to the Galatians, that Judea had certain especial necessities, whereof all other had regard, not without cause, (Galatians 3) And this thankfulness deserved no small commendations, in that the men of Antioch thought that they ought to help the needy brethren, from whom they had received the gospel. For there is nothing more just than that those should reap earthly things who have sown spiritual things. As every man is too much bent to provide for himself, every man might readily have excepted and objected: Why shall not I rather provide for myself? But when they call to mind how greatly they are indebted to the brethren, omitting that carefulness, [Immodica illa anxietate,” that excessive anxiety.] they turn themselves to help them. In sum, this alms had a double end; for the men of Antioch did the duty of charity toward their needy brethren and they did also testify by this sign, what great account they made of the gospel, whilst that they honored the place whence it came.


As every man was able. We see the men of Antioch observe in this place that mean which Paul prescribeth to the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians 8:6,) whether they did this of themselves, or being instructed by him; and it is not to be doubted, but that he continued like to himself [Note:Sibi constiterit,” is consistent with himself.] in both places. Therefore we must follow this rule, that every one, considering how much is granted him, impart the same courteously with his brethren, as one that must give an account; so shall it come to pass, that he which is but poor shall have a liberal mind, and that a small reward [Munus,” gift. shall be counted a fat and gorgeous sacrifice.] By this word determined, Luke giveth us to understand that their oblation was voluntary. Which thing ought so to be, as Paul teacheth, that we reach out our hand unto the needy not as constrained, but cheerfully, (2 Corinthians 9:7.) When as he nameth every one, it is all one as if he should say, that one did not prescribe another a law, neither did they burthen one another with their prejudice, but that every man did bestow his liberality as seemed good to himself; and we must note the word διακονιας, whereby we are taught that rich men have greater abundance given them upon that condition, that they may be the ministers of the poor in the dispensation committed to them by God. Lastly, Luke teacheth that the blessing was sent not to all the whole nation, but only to those that were of the household of faith, not because we ought never to use any bountifulness, or courtesy towards the unbelievers, seeing love ought to extend itself unto all mankind, but because those ought to be preferred whom God hath joined and linked to us move near, and with a more holy band.


30. Sending it unto the elders, [presbyters.] We must note two things in this place, that the men of Antioch did choose faithful men, and of known honesty, to carry their blessing; secondly, that they sent it unto the elders, that they might wisely bestow the same. For if alms be thrown into the midst of the common people, or be set in the midst where every one may take what he will, every man will by and by take it to himself as if it were some common prey; and so he that is most bold will defraud the needy; yea, through his greediness he will cut the throats of the hungry. Therefore, let us mark these places, which teach that we must not only deal uprightly and faithfully, but that there is also an order and wisdom required as well in making choice as in all our administration. Those are called elders in whose hands the government of the Church was, among whom the apostles were chief; the men of Antioch refer the holy money (which they had appointed for the poor) to their discretion. If any man object that this was the office of the deacons, forasmuch as the apostles did deny that they could both serve tables and attend upon doctrine, answer is easy, that the deacons were appointed over tables, in such sort, that yet, notwithstanding, they were under the elders, [presbyters,] neither did they any thing but at their appointment.