on Acts 6 :9
The synagogue - of the Libertines, etc. - That Jews and proselytes from various countries had now come up to Jerusalem to bring offerings, and to attend the feast of pentecost, we have already seen, Acts 2:9-11. The persons mentioned here were foreign Jews, who appear to have had a synagogue peculiar to themselves at Jerusalem, in which they were accustomed to worship when they came to the public festivals.
Various opinions have been entertained concerning the Libertines mentioned here: Bp. Pearce's view of the subject appears to me to be the most correct.
"It is commonly thought that by this name is meant the sons of such Jews as had been slaves, and obtained their freedom by the favor of their masters; but it is to be observed that with these Libertines the Cyrenians and Alexandrians are here joined, as having one and the same synagogue for their public worship. And it being known that the Cyrenians (Acts 2:10) lived in Libya, and the Alexandrians in the neighborhood of it, it is most natural to look for the Libertines too in that part of the world. Accordingly we find Suidas, in his Lexicon, saying, upon the word Λιβερτινοι, that it is ονομα του εθνους, the name of a people. And in Gest. Collationis Carthagine habitae inter Catholicos et Donatistas, published with Optatus's works, Paris, 1679, (No. 201, and p. 57), we have these words: Victor episcopus Ecclesiae Catholicae Libertinensis dixit, Unitas est illic, publicam non latet conscientiam. Unity is there: all the world knows it. From these two passages it appears that there was in Libya a town or district called Libertina, whose inhabitants bore the name of Λιβερτινοι, Libertines, when Christianity prevailed there. They had an episcopal see among them, and the above-mentioned Victor was their bishop at the council of Carthage, in the reign of the Emperor Honorius. And from hence it seems probable that the town or district, and the people, existed in the time of which Luke is here speaking. They were Jews, (no doubt), and came up, as the Cyrenian and Alexandrian Jews did, to bring their offerings to Jerusalem, and to worship God in the temple there. Cunaeus, in his Rep. Hebr. ii. 23, says that the Jews who lived in Alexandria and Libya, and all other Jews who lived out of the Holy Land, except those of Babylon and its neighborhood, were held in great contempt by the Jews who inhabited Jerusalem and Judea; partly on account of their quitting their proper country, and partly on account of their using the Greek language, and being quite ignorant of the other. For these reasons it seems probable that the Libertines, Cyrenians, and Alexendrians, had a separate synagogue; (as perhaps the Cilicians and those of Asia had); the Jews of Jerusalem not suffering them to be present in their synagogues, or they not choosing to perform their public service in synagogues where a language was used which they did not understand."
It is supposed, also, that these synagogues had theological, if not philosophical, schools attached to them; and that it was the disciples or scholars of these schools who came forward to dispute with Stephen, and were enraged because they were confounded. For it is not an uncommon custom with those who have a bad cause, which can neither stand the test of Scripture nor reason, to endeavor to support it by physical when logical force has failed; and thus: -
"Prove their doctrine orthodox,
By apostolic blows and knocks."
In the reign of Queen Mary, when popery prevailed in this country, and the simplest women who had read the Bible were an overmatch for the greatest of the popish doctors; as they had neither Scripture nor reason to allege, they burned them alive, and thus terminated a controversy which they were unable to maintain. The same cause will ever produce the same effect: the Libertines, Cilicians, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, pursued this course: Stephen confounded them by Scripture and reason, and they beat his brains out with stones! This was the most effectual way to silence a disputant whose wisdom they could not resist. In the same way were the Protestants treated, when by Scripture and reason they had shown the absurdity and wickedness of that anti-christian system which the fire and the sword were brought forth to establish. These persecutors professed great concern at first for the souls of those whom they variously tortured, and at last burned; but their tender mercies were cruel, and when they gave up the body to the flames, they most heartily consigned the soul to Satan. Scires sanguine natos: their conduct proclaimed their genealogy.
on Acts 6 :9
Then there arose - That is, they stood up against him, or they opposed him.
Of the synagogue - See the notes on Matthew 4:23. The Jews were scattered in all parts of the world. In every place they would have synagogues. But it is also probable that there would be enough foreign Jews residing at Jerusalem from each of those places to maintain the worship of the synagogue; and at the great feasts, those synagogues adapted to Jewish people of different nations would be attended by those who came up to attend the great feasts. It is certain that there was a large number of synagogues in Jerusalem. The common estimate is, that there were four hundred and eighty in the city (Lightfoot; Vitringa).
Of the Libertines - There has been very great difference of opinion about the meaning of this word. The chief opinions may be reduced to three:
1. The word is Latin, and means properly a "freedman," a man who had been a slave and was set at liberty. Many have supposed that these persons were manumitted slaves of Roman origin, but who had become proselyted to the Jewish religion, and who had a synagogue in Jerusalem. This opinion is not very probable; though it is certain, from Tacitus (Ann., lib. 2:c. 85), that there were many persons of this description at Rome. He says that 4,000 Jewish proselytes of Roman slaves made free were sent at one time to Sardinia.
2. A second opinion is, that these persons were Jews by birth, and had been taken captives by the Romans, and then set at liberty, and were thus called "freedmen" or "liberties." That there were many Jews of this description there can be no doubt. Pompey the Great, when he subjugated Judea, sent large numbers of the Jews to Rome (Philo, In Legat. a.d. Caium). These Jews were set at liberty at Rome, and assigned a place beyond the Tiber for a residence. See Introduction to the Epistle to the Romans. These persons are by Philo called "libertines," or "freedmen" (Kuinoel, in loco). Many Jews were also conveyed as captives by Ptolemy I. to Egypt, and obtained a residence in that country and the vicinity.
3. Another opinion is, that they took their name from some "place" which they occupied. This opinion is more probable from the fact that all the "other" persons mentioned here are named from the countries which they occupied. Suidas says that this is the name of a place. And in one of the fathers this passage occurs: "Victor, Bishop of the Catholic Church at Libertina, says, unity is there, etc." from this passage it is plain that there was a place called "Libertina." That place was in Africa, not far from ancient Carthage. See Dr. Pearce's Commentary on this place.
Cyrenians - Jews who dwelt at "Cyrene" in Africa. See the notes on Matthew 27:32.
Alexandrians - Inhabitants of Alexandria in Egypt. That city was founded by Alexander the Great, 332 b.c., and was populated by colonies of Greeks and Jews. It was much celebrated, and contained not less than 300,000 free citizens, and as many slaves. The city was the residence of many Jews. Josephus says that Alexander himself assigned to them a particular quarter of the city, and allowed them equal privileges with the Greeks (Antiq., Romans 14:7, Romans 14:2; Against Apion, Romans 2:4). Philo affirms that of five parts of the city, the Jews inhabited two. According to his statement, there dwelt in his time at Alexandria and the other Egyptian cities not less than "ten hundred thousand Jews." Amron, the general of Omar, when he took the city, said that it contained 40,000 tributary Jews. At this place the famous version of the Old Testament called the "Septuagint," or the Alexandrian version, was made. See Robinson's Calmet.
Cilicia - This was a province of Asia Minor, on the seacoast, at the north of Cyprus. The capital of this province was Tarsus, the native place of Paul, Acts 9:11. As Paul was of this place, and belonged doubtless to this synagogue, it is probable that he was one who was engaged in this dispute with Stephen. Compare Acts 7:58.
Of Asia - See the notes on Acts 2:9.
Disputing with Stephen - Doubtless on the question whether Jesus was the Messiah. This word does not denote "angry disputing," but is commonly used to denote "fair and impartial inquiry"; and it is probable that the discussion began in this way, and when they were overcome by "argument," they resorted, as disputants are apt to do, to angry criminations and violence.
on Acts 6 :9
6:9 There arose certain of the synagogue which is called - It was one and the same synagogue which consisted of these several nations. Saul of Cilicia was doubtless a member of it; whence it is not at all improbable, that Gamaliel presided over it. Libertines - So they were styled, whose fathers were once slaves, and afterward made free. This was the ease of many Jews who had been taken captive by the Romans.