Commentary on Acts 4:13-21
The second half of the “trial” of Peter and John before the members of the Sanhedrin.
They are astonished at the self-confidence of the two apostles, considering that they are uneducated fishermen. They had no training in rabbinic schools nor did they have any standing in recognised religious circles. They were, in the eyes of their judges, “only” lay people.
It is important to remember that faith and convictions do not depend on learning. It is clearly implied also that the source of their strength and confidence is Jesus. (“They recognised these men as having been with Jesus.”) Our Church consists of the highest intellectuals and complete illiterates: all have equal access to knowing and loving God, all have equal access to the highest levels of contemplation, mysticism and sanctity.
The apostles’ judges in this case are obviously intellectual snobs, a kind not unknown in Christian circles. Because they could not deny the extraordinary cure that had taken place in the full view of a large number of people, the Jewish leaders could only tell the apostles not to speak any more about Jesus. In matters of this kind it seems that the accused, unless they were rabbis, could not be jailed except for a second offence.
We can never be stopped from preaching the Gospel. Nor can we ever obey such an order. As Peter told his judges: “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”
It reminds one of Thomas More’s words to his accusers: “The King’s good servant but God’s first.” The judges felt obliged to implement the law but there are situations where the law cannot be followed.
Of course, we have to be careful that it is not our own interpretation of it that we proclaim. At the same time, we are bound to follow our conscience and follow the truth as we know it. If we are wrong, it will be exposed. Real Truth will always come to the surface eventually.