When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them. (Acts 5:33)
But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. Then he said to his colleagues, “Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. 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. 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. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”Acts 5:34-39
From Barnes’ Commentary
Theudas -This was a name quite common among the Jews. Of this man nothing more is known than is here recorded. Josephus (Antiq., book 20, chapter 5) mentions one “Theudas,” in the time of “Fadus,” the procurator of Judea, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (45 or 46 a.d.), who persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them and follow him to the river Jordan. He told them he was a prophet, and that he would divide the river and lead them over. Fadus, however, came suddenly upon them, and slew many of them. Theudas was taken alive and conveyed to Jerusalem, and there beheaded. But this occurred at least ten or fifteen years after this discourse of Gamaliel. Many efforts have been made to reconcile Luke and Josephus, on the supposition that they refer to the same man. Lightfoot supposed that Josephus had made an error in chronology. But there is no reason to suppose that there is reference to the same event; and the fact that Josephus has not recorded the insurrection referred to by Gamaliel does not militate at all against the account in the Acts. For:
- Luke, for anything that appears to the contrary, is quite as credible an historian as Josephus.
- the name “Theudas” was a common name among the Jews; and there is no improbability that there were “two” leaders of an insurrection of this name. If it “is” improbable, the improbability would affect Josephus’ credit as much as that of Luke.
- it is altogether improbable that “Gamaliel” should refer to a case which was not well authenticated, and that Luke should record a speech of this kind unless it was delivered, when it would be so easy to detect the error.
- Josephus has recorded many instances of insurrection and revolt. He has represented the country as in an unsettled state, and by no means professes to give an account of “all” that occurred. Thus, he says (Antiq., xvii. 10, section 4) that there were “at this time ten thousand other disorders in Judea”; and (section 8) that “Judea was full of robberies.” When this “Theudas” lived cannot be ascertained; but as Gamaliel mentions him before Judas of Galilee, it is probable that he lived not far from the time that our Saviour was born; at a time when many false prophets appeared, claiming to be the Messiah.
From Clarke’s Commentary
Rose up Theudas -Josephus, Ant. lib. xx. cap. 4, sect. 1, mentions one named Theudas who was the author of an insurrection; about whom there has been much controversy whether he were the person spoken of here by Gamaliel. Every circumstance, as related by Josephus agrees well enough with what is referred to here, except the chronology; for the Theudas mentioned by Josephus made his insurrection when Fadus was governor of Judea; which was at least ten years after the time in which the apostles were brought before this council. Much labor has been thrown away in unsuccessful attempts to reconcile the historian and the evangelist, when it is very probable they speak of different transactions. Bp. Pearce thinks “the whole difficulty will disappear if we follow the opinion of Abp. Usher, who imagined that Luke’s Theudas was the same with that Judas of whom Josephus gives this account, Ant. lib. xvii. cap. 12, sect. 5; and War, lib. ii. cap. 4, sect. 1: ‘that a little after the death of Herod the Great, he raised an insurrection in Galilee, and aimed at getting the sovereignty of Judea,’ and that he was defeated and put to death, as is implied in sect. 10, of the same chapter. That Theudas and Judas might be names for the same person, Bp. Pearce thinks probable from the consideration, that the same apostle who is called Judas inJoh_14:22, andLuk_6:16, and called Jude inJud_1:1, is, inMar_3:18, called Thaddeus; and, inMat_10:3, is also called Lebbeus. This apostle having the names Judas and Thaddeus and Lebbeus given to him, two of these must have been the same; because no Jew had more than two names, unless when a patronymic name was given to him, as when Joseph surnamed Justus was called Barsabas, i.e. the son of Saba. It is no unreasonable thing to suppose that Thaddeus and Theudas are the same name; and that therefore the person called Theudas in Luke is probably the same whom Josephus, in the places above quoted, calls Judas.” Dr. Lightfoot thinks that “Josephus has made a slip in his chronology;” and rather concludes that the Theudas mentioned in the Ant. lib. xx. cap. 4, sect. 1, is the person referred to in the text. I confess the matter does not appear to me of so much consequence; it is mentioned by Gamaliel in a careless way, and St. Luke, as we have already seen, scrupulously gives the wordsof every speaker. The story was no doubt well known, and there were no doubts formed on it by the Jewish Council. We see plainly the end for which it was produced; and we see that it answered this end most amply; and certainly we have no farther concern with Gamaliel or his story.
From the Expositor’s Bible Commentary
It is evident that Gamaliel must have had some special reason for selecting the risings of Theudas and Judas, beyond the fact that they were rebels against established authority. The closing years of the kingdom of Herod the Great were times when numberless rebellions took place. Josephus gives us the names of several leaders who took part in them, but, as he tells us (“Antiqq.” 17, 10:4), there were then “ten thousand other disorders,” into the details of which he did not enter. All these risings had, however, these distinguishing features, they were all unsuccessful, and they were all quenched in blood. Gamaliel must have seen some feature common to the Christian movement and to those headed by Theudas and Judas some thirty years earlier, leading him to adduce these examples. That common feature was their Messianic character. They all alike proclaimed new hopes for Israel, and appealed to the religious expectations which then excited the people, and still are embodied in works like the book of Enoch, produced about that period; while all the other attempts were animated by a mere spirit of plunder or of personal ambition. But here we are met with a difficulty. The rationalistic commentators of Germany have urged that St. Luke composed a fancy speech and put it into the mouth of Gamaliel, and in doing so made a great historic mistake. They appeal to Josephus as their authority. He states that a Theudas arose about A.D. 44, some ten years later than this meeting of the Sanhedrin, and drew a large number of adherents after him, but was defeated by the Roman governor. On the other hand, the words of Gamaliel refer to the case of a Theudas who lived half a century earlier, and preceded Judas the Galilean. To put the matter plainly, St. Luke is accused of having composed a speech for Gamaliel, and, when doing so, of having committed a great blunder, representing Gamaliel as appealing to an incident which did not happen till ten years later.
This circumstance has long attracted the notice of commentators, and has been explained in different ways. Some maintain that there was an older Theudas, who headed an abortive Messianic rebellion previous to the time of Cyrenius and the days of the taxing. This is a very possible explanation, and the identity of names constitutes no valid objection. The same names often occur in connection with the same movements, political or religious. In the third century, for instance, the Novatian heresy arose at Carthage, and thence was transferred to Rome. It was headed by two men, Novatus and Novatian, the former a Carthaginian, the latter a Roman presbyter. What a fine subject for a mythical theory, were not the facts too indisputably historical! How a German critic would revel in depicting the impossibility of two men with names so like holding precisely the same office and supporting exactly the same views in two cities so widely separated as Rome and Carthage! Or let us take two modern instances. The Tractarian movement is not yet quite sixty years old. It has not therefore yet passed out of the sphere of personal experience. It started in Oxford during the thirties, and there in Oxford we find at that very period two divines named William Palmer, both favouring the Tractarian views, both eminent writers and scholars, but yet tending finally in different directions, for one William Palmer became a Roman Catholic, while the other remained a devoted son of the Reformation. Or to come to still more modern times. There was an Irish movement in 1848 which numbered amongst its most prominent leaders a William Smith O’Brien, and there is now an Irish movement of the same character, and it also numbers a William O’Brien amongst its most prominent leaders. A Parnell leads a movement for the repeal of the Union in 1890. Ninety years earlier, a Parnell resigned high office sooner than consent to the consummation of the same legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland. We might indeed produce parallel cases without number from the range of history, specially of English history, showing how political and religious tendencies run in families, and reproduce exactly the same names, and that at no distant intervals. But the very passage before us, the speech of Gamaliel and its historic argument, affords a sufficient instance. Gamaliel adduced the case of Judas the Galilean as an illustration of an unsuccessful religious movement. Every one admits that here at least Josephus and the Acts of the Apostles are at one. Judas the Gaulonite, as Josephus styles him in one place, or the Galilean as he calls him in another place, was the founder of the sect of Zealots, who “have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only ruler and Lord” (Josephus, “Antiqq.,” 18, 1:6). Judas was defeated at the time of the taxing under Cyrenius, and yet more than forty-five years later we find his sons Simon and James suffering crucifixion under the Romans because they were following their father’s example.
Another explanation has also been offered. It has been suggested that Theudas was simply another name for one of the many rebels whom Josephus mentions, -for Simon, for instance, who had been a slave of Herod the Great, and had upon his death headed a revolt against authority. Either explanation is quite tenable, as opposed to the view which represents St. Luke as committing a gross historical error. And we are the more justified in offering these suggestions when we reflect upon the numberless instances where modern research has confirmed, and is every year confirming the minute accuracy of this writer, who doubtless derived his information concerning what passed in the Sanhedrin, on this occasion, from St. Paul, who either as a member of the council or a favourite pupil of Gamaliel may have been present listening to the debates, or even sharing in the final decisions.
From Gill’s Commentary
Theudas,….. There is one of this name Josephus speaks of, who set up for a prophet, and drew a large number of people after him; pretending, that if they would follow him to the river Jordan, and take their goods along with them, he would but give the word, and the waters would divide and leave them passage to go over dryfoot; but Cuspius Fadus, who then had the administration of Judea, sent out some troops on horse, before they were aware, and killed many of them, and took diverse others, and brought them in triumph to Jerusalem, with the head of Theudas. This account agrees with this instance of Gamaliel, only differs in chronology; since, according to Gamaliel’s account, this case of Theudas was some time ago, and must have been before now, or he could not have mentioned it; whereas the story Josephus relates, as being in the times of Cuspius Fadus, was several years after this. Some think Josephus is mistaken in his chronology, and then all is right. Others, that another Theudas is intended; who, as Origen says, was before the birth of Christ, since he was before Judas of Galilee, who rose up in the days of the taxing, at which time Christ was born: and the phrase, before these days, seems to design a good while ago. This name was in use among the Jews, and is either the same withתודה, “Thuda”, or “Thoda”, so the Syriac version reads; one of the disciples of Christ was so called by the Jews, whose name was Thaddeus: or withתודוס, “Thudus”; one of this name, said to be a man of Rome, is frequently mentioned in the Talmud; and another also that was a physician; but both different from this “Theodas”. The Vulgate Latin and Arabic versions read, Theodas; and some take it to be a contraction of Theodotus, Theodorus, or Theodosius. Just as Theucharis is put for Theocharis, and Theudosia for Theodosia: but it seems rather to be an Hebrew name; and so Jerome took it to be, who renders it “praise”: but who the man was is not certain; however, he rose up, as Gamaliel says, and made an insurrection,
From the IVP Bible Background Commentary
Act_5:36. If Josephus is accurate, Theudas arose about A.D. 44—ten years after Gamaliel’s speech. The name Theudas is not a common enough name to make an earlier revolutionary named Theudas likely, although the name does occur (e.g., in a Jerusalem tomb inscription). Luke may simply fill in names of the most prominent revolutionary leaders known by his own period rather than a less-known name Gamaliel might have cited (historians sometimes adjusted characters’ speeches in their own words); the alternative would be that either Luke or Josephus is mistaken.
Theudas was a Jewish magician who gathered followers to the river Jordan, promising to part it. The Roman governor Fadus sent troops who killed and captured members of the crowd; Theudas was beheaded.
From The ISBE
thū´das(Θευδᾶς,Theudás, a contraction of Theodorus, “the gift of God”): Theudas is referred to by Gamaliel in his speech before the Sanhedrin, when he advised them as to the position they should adopt in regard to the apostles (Act_5:36). The failure of the rebellion of Theudas was quoted by Gamaliel on this occasion as typical of the natural end of such movements as were inspired “not of God, but of men.” A rising under one Theudas is also described by Josephus (Ant., XX, v, 1), but this occurred at a later date (according to Josephus about 44 or 45 AD) than the speech of Gamaliel (before 37 AD). Of theories put forward in explanation of the apparent anachronism in Gameliels speech, the two most in favor are (1) that as there were many insurrections during the period in question, the two writers refer to different Theudases; (2) that the reference to Theudas in the narrative of Acts was inserted by a later reviser, whose historical knowledge was inaccurate (Weiss; compare also Knowling,The Expositor’s Greek Testament, II, 157-59).
From “A Popular Commentary on the New Testament”
Rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain. This is one of the so-called historical inaccuracies of the ‘Acts.’ Josephus mentions (Antt. xx.5,1) a Theudas who persuaded a great company of people that he was a prophet, to induce them to follow his lead. This impostor was defeated and executed by the troops of Fadus, the Procurator of Judea. Now this happened in the reign of Claudius, some ten or twelve yearsafterthis speech of Gamaliel.
The mistake of identifying the Theudas of Josephus with the Theudas instanced by the writer of the ‘Acts,’ is probably in great measure owing to the mistake of Eusebius, who, forgetful of the dates, and misled by the similarity of the names, confuses the two; but on examination, the details of the two outbreaks are different, for Josephus speaks of a great company of people as following the (later) Theudas of Josephus, while the Theudas of Gamaliel seems to have had comparatively few adherents, about four hundred. The apparent discrepancy between the history of Josephus and the Acts is best explained by the supposition that two persons bearing the name of Theudas appeared as insurgents at different times. Josephus relates how, at the time referred to by Gamaliel (see note onAct_5:37), the land was overrun by insurgent bands under the leadership of fanatics. Some of the leaders he mentions by name, others he merely alludes to generally. One of these latter most probably was the Theudas mentioned by Gamaliel, selected by him for special notice, for some reasons unknown to us. The name was by no means an uncommon one, nor is there any improbability in supposing that one Theudas, an insurgent, should have appeared in the time of Augustus, and another fifty years later, when Claudius was reigning. Josephus writes, for instance, of four men named Simon, all leaders of insurrections within forty years, and of three insurgent chiefs named Simon within ten years. It cannot for one moment be conceded that in the speech of Gamaliel, reported by the author of the ‘Acts,’ a grave historical error exists, considering that the whole writing of the ‘Acts’ was evidently supervised by St. Paul, the pupil of Gamaliel.
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