Translations: 简体中文 繁體中文

Acts 5:29-42 (web)

Civil Disobedience

5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered,
"We must obey God rather than men
5:30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 
5:31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior,
to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 
5:32 We are His witnesses of these things; 
and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." 
5:33 But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and determined to kill them. 

5:34 But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel,
a teacher of the law, honored by all the people,
and commanded to put the apostles out for a little while. 
5:35 He said to them, 

"You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. 
5:36 For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; 
to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; 
and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing. 
5:37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrollment, 
and drew away some people after him. He also perished, 
and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. 
5:38 Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. 
For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. 
5:39 But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it,
and you would be found even to be fighting against God!" 
5:40 They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, 
they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 
5:41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, 
rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus' name. 
5:42 Every day, in the temple and at home, 
they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ. 


Civil Disobedience and Suffering Persecution

Although it is true that all authorities have been established by God, yet there are times when civil disobedience is called for. For such authorities will at times attempt to act outside their legitimate realm of authority. God had ordained the gospel to be preached, but these authorities attempted to suppress it and in doing so were acting outside of their legitimate realm of authority. Christians are under no obligation to submit to human regulations which are contrary to God's commands. The application of this concept is of course controversial and naturally leaves room for compromise as a matter of wisdom. 

This account also reminds us of the incident in the book of Daniel in which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship an idol under the command of the civil authority, and for their disobedience were thrown into the fire, but were miraculously delivered. Their declaration to the king was:

"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Dan 3:17,18 (niv)
It is not guaranteed that we will be delivered from suffering when we serve God. Rather "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" 2Tim 3:12 (niv) And even the apostles though delivered from death at this point were beaten. But they reacted in faith to the words of Jesus, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matt 5:11,12 (niv) And besides this "we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance" Rom 5:3 (niv)


Gamaliel was a well known teacher of the Law and who even taught the apostle Paul before he was a believer. (Acts 22:3) Despite this fact it appears that Paul didn't take his advice, for we find him later openly persecuting Christians. But at this time his advice was heeded to a degree (if you can reckon beating them and commanding them not to preach to be the same as leaving them alone!) However Gamaliel's argument does not necessarily follow. The success or failure of a movement does not necessarily reflect its validity.  For what of the success of Islam and other deviant religions? Yet what I find interesting in his argument is that he introduces the idea that it is possible that Christianity is of God. And if Gamaliel, a respected Jewish teacher even today among Jews, is willing to reckon this possibility, shouldn't all Jews? It was because of miracles that Nicodemus, another teacher of Israel, came to Christ. So also I would imagine it difficult for a rational moderate like Gamaliel to easily dismiss the claims of the Apostles in view of the miracles being done under his very nose.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources May 11,2023