Memorial Hall. Texas Capitol.
Sunday, 17 July 2022
and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Acts 9:2
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
This verse should be taken together with the previous verse. Together, they say, “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” With that noted, verse 2 now begins with, “and asked letters from him.”
It is from the high priest that the letters are being requested, demonstrating both the authority granted to Paul as well as the great zeal he had in identifying and bringing an end to any who were practicing their faith in the Lord Jesus.
As such, these letters would give him authority in any religious matters of the Jewish people. It is the religion under the Law of Moses that established them as a nation. As the worship and religious rites of Israel to serve Yehovah their God were considered religio licita (permitted religion) by the Romans, the high priest would have authority over the Jewish people in such matters as fell within his religious jurisdiction. With that understood, Luke continues noting that the letters were “to the synagogues of Damascus.”
Damascus is considered the most ancient city in the world. At the time of Paul, many Jews lived there, and Josephus notes that at the time of Emperor Nero, a full ten thousand Jews were slaughtered there, showing how great the number was.
As noted, the Jewish nation was established under the principles of the Law of Moses. As such, the people of that nation were accountable as Jews to the authority of the high priest in this regard. Therefore, letters to the synagogues would bear the high priest’s authority over any who attended those synagogues, or who were simply affiliated with them. Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 11:32 that Aretas was the king at the time. As for the letters, they were to give Paul authority, “so that if he found any who were of the Way.”
The Greek reads tēs Hodou – “the Way.” Some translations incorrectly say, “this way,” as if it is referring to one of many ways, but this is not correct. It is a designation concerning the early faith, prior to the introduction of the now more commonly used term “Christian.” It is the same word, hodos, or way, that is found in John 14:4-6 –
“’And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.’
5 Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’
6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”
Thus, “the Way” is an expression of faith that Jesus is the One way to be reconciled to God the Father. It is applicable to all people, Jews and Gentiles (see Acts 19, e.g.). As for Paul’s plans for those in Damascus, it was all-inclusive, “whether men or women.”
Paul was uninterested in what reason a person followed the Lord. He was also uninterested in their gender, as if a woman’s faith was less important than a man’s. His attitude was set on eradication of the faith without regard to any lesser divisions that may have been seen among believers. As such, it was his set determination to find them and arrest them so that “he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Once in Jerusalem, there would be a trial to determine guilt and punishment. This is seen in Paul’s words of Acts 26 –
“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 26:10, 11
Life application: How do you personally feel about faith in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that He is one of many ways to approach God? Are there people in your circle of life that believe this? If so, when you talk to them, do you let them know that the Bible says otherwise? Are you willing to stand on Jesus’ words that He is the only way to restoration with God and that none can be restored apart from Him?
If you are willing to equivocate on this fundamental truth, what else will you waffle on? If you say you are a follower of Jesus (a Christian, a born-again Christian, a follower of the Way, or whatever) and yet you will not defend the most basic premise of the faith, then what Jesus are you following? His words cannot be picked at random. The Bible is the only source for our faith in Him. As such, we must either accept it (in the proper context) or we have rejected it. If we reject the Bible, then we have no basis for our faith at all.
Think reasonably about your faith, and then determine that if you truly believe the message of Jesus, you will put every effort into coming to know Him from His word. It will be well worth it when you stand before the Lord on the day when you are called before Him to give an account of your life.
Lord God, help us to think clearly about who You are, about what You have done, and how Jesus is the way in which You have done so. And more, help us to consider that it is the Bible that tells us about Jesus. And so, Lord, help us to take the time each day to study this precious word, and then to also apply it to our walk before You. Amen.