Studies in the Book of Acts
Healed by the name of Jesus (4:8-10)
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answers the Sanhedrin’s questions and accusations by facing the council with the reality of a glorified Christ. This recalls Jesus’ saying, that when they are brought before kings and governors, he will give them a wisdom none of their adversaries can gainsay (Luke 21:12-15).
Peter denies that he and John perform magic, or that they are involved with evil spirits, or that the cure was a hoax. The man was healed by the “name of Jesus Christ,” pure and simple (4:10). Peter pulls no punches, and he accuses the leaders of being responsible for Jesus’ death. He again insists that Jesus had been resurrected, and it is through his power that the lame beggar was healed. In short, Peter’s speech became another declaration of Jesus’ messiahship.
The “stone” rejected (4:11-12)
Peter next cites an Old Testament scripture as a “proof-text” that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected…” (Psalm 118:22). Jesus used the same scripture to refer to his messiahship (Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17-18), setting the example for the apostles. This stone motif is used in other New Testament writings as well. [Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:4-8.]
In its original setting in Psalm 118, the “rejected stone” may have referred to Israel, hated by the nations but chosen by God. The builders who rejected the stone as unfit would most likely be other nations who built their own empires and worshipped their own gods. But Jesus, and Peter here in Acts, brands the Jewish religious leaders as “the builders.” They had built their own religious structures, beliefs and empire, and now they were rejecting the truth about salvation and the One who brought its message, Jesus.
“The cornerstone” is more literally in Greek “head of [the] corner,” kephale gonias. It refers to the capstone or keystone that joins the sides of an arch at the top. This stone is essential for holding the arch together, and is placed at its highest point and head. This capstone or “cornerstone” is essential for completing the arch. Just as there is only one capstone in an arch, Jesus Christ is the unique person who makes salvation possible. Apart from Jesus, there is no spiritual building, or church, because there is no salvation. “Salvation is found in no one else,” insisted Peter, “for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (4:12).
Unschooled apostles (4:13-14)
Peter is using some masterful biblical argumentation, usually reserved for trained rabbis. The Sanhedrin is astonished by this because the apostles are “unschooled, ordinary men” (4:13). People expressed the same surprise about Jesus: “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” (John 7:15). The Jewish leaders don’t necessarily regard Peter and John as ignorant and illiterate. The apostles are considered “unschooled” in terms of rabbinic training, that is, without professional qualifications. They are “ordinary” (Greek, idiotai) in the sense of being “commoners” or “laymen,” or “untrained” in matters of Jewish law. The religious leaders fault the people for their lack of expertise and understanding of Torah (which ironically means that their teachers were failing to do their job). In one case, the Pharisees said of those ordinary folks who believed in Christ: “this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them” (John 7:49).
Meanwhile, the Sanhedrin is getting nowhere with Peter and John. In fact, the council members are to some degree on the defensive. The apostles are using sophisticated rabbinic reasoning to force a consideration of Jesus as Messiah. How like Jesus they seemed in their ability to parry questions and avoid traps! It dawned on the council that the apostles must have learned the “tricks” of argumentation from their teacher — and so they take note “that these men had been with Jesus” (4:13).
The council has another problem: That healed beggar is still there. But why is he there the next day? Had he been arrested? Did he want to be a witness for the apostles? Luke doesn’t tell us. Whatever the case, the beggar’s presence is evidence of Jesus’ healing power. In a similar situation, Jesus had healed a man who had been born blind. His very presence reminded the religious community that Jesus had a power that could not be denied (John 9). Now another man born with an infirmity is healed. And he is here, still a witness. How could the Sanhedrin punish the apostles when the proof of Jesus’ power is plainly in their presence?