Acts 5:39

39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”

Acts 5:39 Meaning and Commentary

Acts 5:39

But if it be of God
If it is according to the counsel of his will; if it is a scheme of his forming, and a work to which he has called these men, and they proceed in it on good principles, and with a view to the honour and glory of God:

ye cannot overthrow it;
it will proceed and get ground, and stand, maugre all the opposition of hell and earth; therefore do nothing to them, or hinder them from going on. Some copies read, "ye cannot overthrow them"; and add, "neither you, nor kings, nor tyrants; wherefore refrain from these men"; so Beza's Cambridge copy.

Lest haply ye be found even to fight against God;
which to do is downright madness, and which no man in his senses can expect to succeed in. There are some sayings of the Jewish doctors which seem to agree with these reasonings of Gamaliel F16.

``Says R. Jochanan the shoemaker, every congregation, which is for the name of heaven (or God) at length shall be established, but that which is not for the glory of God shall not be established in the end.''

Which one of the commentators F17 interprets in words still nearer to Gamaliel's language, thus:

``it shall be that that counsel which is for God shall stand and prosper, but that which is not for God shall cease.''

And in another place it is said F18,

``all contention (or dispute) which is for God, at length shall be established, but that which is not for God shall not in the end be established: what is contention that is for God? the contention of Hillell and Shammai, (two famous doctors among the Jews,) but that which is not for God is the contention of Korah, and his whole company.''

Some have thought from this advice of Gamaliel, that he was a Christian, or greatly inclined to Christianity; but when it is considered what respect was shown him at his death by the Jews, before observed on ( Acts 5:34 ) it will appear that he died a Pharisee; and especially it cannot be thought he had any favourable sentiments of the Christians, since a little before his death he ordered a prayer to be made against them. Maimonides says F19, that

``in the days of Rabban Gamaliel, the Epicureans (so the Amsterdam edition reads, but former editions read (Mynym) , "heretics", by whom are meant Christians) increased in Israel; and they distressed the Israelites, and seduced them to turn aside from God; and when he saw that this was greater than all the necessities of the children of men, he stood up, and his council or sanhedrim, and composed another prayer, in which there was a request to God to destroy the Epicureans,''

or heretics, meaning the Christians: and though this prayer is sometimes ascribed to Samuel the little, yet it was composed by him at the hint and instigation of Gamaliel; for so it is said F20, R. Gamaliel said to the wise men,

``is there no man that knows how to compose a prayer for the Sadducees? (R. Asher reads "heretics";) Samuel the little stood up and composed one.''

And it is also said F21, that

``Samuel the little composed, (Nynym tkrb) , "the prayer for the heretics", before, or in the presence of Gamaliel the elder.''

He made it when he was present, assisting, dictating, directing, and approving. The prayer was this F23,

``let there be no hope for apostates, and may all heretics perish in a moment, and all the enemies of thy people be quickly cut off: root out the kingdom of pride, and break, destroy, and subdue them in haste in our days.''

In some forms it is added,

``blessed art thou, O Lord, that breakest the wicked in pieces, and humblest the proud.''

Upon the whole, Gamaliel does not seem to have been a Christian, or to have favoured the Christian religion; but he was, as he is said, ( Acts 5:34 ) to be, a Pharisee: and this council, or sanhedrim, were, for the greater part of them, Sadducees, as seems from ( Acts 5:17 ) who, as the Jews say, were wicked and base men, men of very ill manners, whereas the Pharisees were (Mynmxr) , "merciful men" F24; and such an one was Gamaliel: he was a religious man in his way; a man of humanity, a mild and moderate man, that had compassion and pity for his fellow creatures; and could not give in to any schemes of cruelty and persecution, which the Sadducees were forward to; and upon these principles he acted, and upon these he gave this advice.


F16 Pirke Abot, c. 4 sect 11.
F17 Jarchi in ib.
F18 Pirke Abot, c. 5. sect. 17.
F19 Hilchot Tephilla, c. 2. sect. 1.
F20 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 28. 2.
F21 Juchasin, fol. 21. 1. Ganz Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 25. 2.
F23 Apud Buxtorf. Lex. Talmud. col. 2442. & Alting Shilo, l. 4. c. 26. p. 325.
F24 Juchasin, fol. 139. 1.

Acts 5:39 In-Context

37 After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered.
38 “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown.
39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”
40 The others accepted his advice. They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go.
41 The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.