on Acts 5 :17
The high priest - and - the sect of the Sadducees - Αἱρεσις των Σαδδουκαιων, The heresy of the Sadducees. In this place, as well as in several others, the word αἱρεσις, heresy, has no evil meaning in itself; it is a word of distinction, and may receive either a good or bad colouring from the persons or opinions designated by it. It signifies a sect or party, whether good or bad, distinguished from any other sect. Αἱρεσις, heresy, comes from αἱρεω, I choose, and was anciently applied to the different sects of the heathen philosophers, the members of each sect having chosen their own in preference to all the others. It has been applied among ecclesiastical writers in the same way - when a man chooses one party of Christians, in preference to others, to be his companions in the way of salvation; and he chooses them and their creed and Christian discipline, because he believes the whole to be more consistent with the oracles of God than any of the rest. The Church of Rome has thought proper to attach a very bad meaning to this innocent word, and then apply it to all those who can neither credit her transubstantiation, depend on her purgatory, nor worship her relics. A heretic, in her acceptation, is one who is not a papist, and, because not a papist, utterly out of the way and out of the possibility of being saved. These persons should recollect that, by a then persecuting brother, St. Paul, all the apostles, and the whole Church of Christ, were termed Ναζωραιων αἱρεσις, the heresy of the Nazarenes, Acts 24:5; and it was after the way which the persecuting Jews called heresy that St. Paul and the rest of the apostles worshipped the God of their fathers, Acts 24:14; and it was according to the strictest Hersey in the Jewish Church, ακριβεστατην αἱρεσιν, that St. Paul lived before his conversion, Acts 26:5; and we find, from Acts 28:22, that the whole Church of Christ was termed this heresy, ταυτης αἱρεσεως, and this by persons who intended no reproach, but wished simply to distinguish the Christians from scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. Heresy therefore, in its first acceptation, signifies simply a choice: afterwards it was applied to designate all those persons who made the same choice; and hence the word sect and it became synonymous: in process of time it was applied to those professing Christianity who made, in some cases, a different choice as to some article of faith, or form of worship, from those which had obtained in that part of the Church with which they had been before connected. The majority, from whom they became thus separated, spoke evil of them, and treated them ill, because they presumed to choose for themselves on the foundation of the Holy Scriptures; and because they would take nothing for the truth of God that was not accredited from heaven. Thus, when the people now called Protestants, began to examine their creed according to the Holy Scriptures, and, in consequence of this examination, left out auricular confession, indulgences, the priests' power to forgive sins, adoration of saints, angels, and relics, purgatory, and the doctrine of transubstantiation, because they could not find them in the word of God, the papists called them heretics, by which they meant, in opposition to the meaning of the word, persons holding damnable errors; and, as such, they persecuted, burnt, and destroyed them wherever they had power. Now be it known to these persecutors, that the Protestants still choose to reject opinions and practices which they know to be unscriptural, absurd, and superstitious; and which they have a thousand times demonstrated to be such: and, on this ground, may they still be Heretics!
Were filled with indignation - Ζηλου, With zeal. Ζηλος, from ζεω, to be hot, and λα or λιαν, very much, signifies a vehement affection or disposition of the mind, which, according to its object, is either good or bad, laudable or blamable. Its meaning in this place is easily discerned; and not improperly translated indignation, in our version. We need not be surprised that the Sadducees were filled with indignation, because the apostles proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, and, through that, the general resurrection, which was diametrically opposed to their doctrine; for they denied the possibility of a resurrection, and believed not in the being of either angel or spirit; nor did they allow of the existence of a spiritual world. See on Acts 4:2 (note).
on Acts 5 :17
Then the high priest - Probably "Caiaphas." Compare John 11:49. It seems from this place that he belonged to the sect of the Sadducees. It is certain that he had signalized himself by opposition to the Lord Jesus and to his cause constantly.
Rose up - This expression is sometimes "redundant," and at others it means simply to "begin" to do a thing, or to resolve to do it. Compare Luke 15:18.
And all they that were with him - That is, all they that coincided with him in doctrine or opinion; or, in other words, that portion of the Sanhedrin that was composed of "Sadducees." There was a strong party of Sadducees in the Sanhedrin; and perhaps at this time it was so strong a majority as to be able to control its decisions. Compare Acts 23:6.
Which is the sect - The word translated "sect" here is that from which we have derived our word "heresy." It means simply "sect" or "party," and is not used in a bad sense as implying reproach, or even error. The idea which "we" attach to it of error, and of denying fundamental doctrines in religion, is one that does not occur in the New Testament.
Sadducees - See the notes on Matthew 3:7. The main doctrine of this sect was the denial of the resurrection of the dead. The reason why "they" were particularly opposed to the apostles rather than the Pharisees was that the apostles dwelt much on the "resurrection of the Lord Jesus," which, if true, completely overthrew their doctrine. All the converts, therefore, that were made to Christianity, tended to diminish their numbers and influence, and also to establish the belief of the "Pharisees" in the doctrine of the resurrection. So long, therefore, as the effect of the labors of the apostles was to establish one of the main doctrines of the "Pharisees," and to confute the "Sadducees," so long we may suppose that the "Pharisees" would either favor them or be silent; and so long the "Sadducees" would be opposed to them, and enraged against them. One sect will often see with composure the progress of another that it really hates, if it will humble a rival. Even opposition to the gospel will sometimes be silent provided the spread of religion will tend to humble and mortify those against whom we may be opposed.
Were filled with indignation - Greek: "zeal." The word denotes any kind of "fervor" or "warmth," and may be applied to any warm or violent affection of the mind, either "envy, wrath, zeal," or "love," Acts 13:45; John 2:17; Romans 10:2; 2 Corinthians 7:7; 2 Corinthians 11:2. Here it probably "includes envy" and "wrath." They were "envious" at the success of the apostles - at the number of converts that were made to a doctrine that they hated, and they were envious that the "Pharisees" were deriving such an accession of strength to their doctrine of the resurrection; and they were "indignant" that the apostles regarded so little their authority, and disobeyed the solemn injunction of the Sanhedrin. Compare Acts 4:18-21.
on Acts 5 :17
5:17 The high priest - and the sect of the Sadducees - A goodly company for the priest! He, and these deniers of any angel or resurrection, were filled with zeal - Angry, bitter, persecuting zeal.