be desirous of greater boldness
“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (4:29–31)
How far those gathered together were from being intimidated by the Sanhedrin’s threats is seen in the conclusion of their prayer. After asking the Lord to take note of those threats to register their guilt and to protect the threatened preachers, their praise turns to petition as they request that God enable His bond-servants to speak His word with all confidence. Their description of themselves as bond-servants refers back to the use of despotēs in verse 24 to describe God. They asked not for protection or a place to hide but for even more courage to boldly proclaim God’s truth—the very thing they had been ordered not to do. They also requested that God would continue to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of His holy servant Jesus to confirm His gospel.
God’s answer was not long in coming. When they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together (perhaps the upper room, Acts 1:13) was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (for the third time), and began to speak the word of God with boldness. As on the Day of Pentecost, there was a physical manifestation of the Spirit’s presence, a shaking. God granted them the fullness of the Spirit for the boldness they desired. As in Acts 4:8, the filling of the Spirit does not involve speaking in foreign languages but speaking in their own language the gospel with power. After the first coming of the Spirit at Pentecost when the rest of the believers were also filled, the miracle of languages disappeared and the filling is for power in speaking the truth from God. So it is in Acts 13:9 with Paul. It should be noted that the miracle of languages will appear again in the case of the entrance into the church of the Samaritans (Acts 8:17–18), Gentiles (Acts 10:44–46), and the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:6).
The church had successfully faced its initial trial of opposition. Instead of succumbing to the temptation to compromise the gospel, it became even bolder. The persecution also served to draw the congregation closer together and to their Lord. In what was to become a recurring theme in church history, opposition only made the church grow stronger. As He had with Joseph (Gen. 50:20), God took the evil intentions of men and used them for His own purposes.
31 As a sign of God’s approval, “the place where they were meeting was shaken” (cf. Ex 19:18; Isa 6:4) and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (see comments at v. 8). With such motivation and divine enablement, their prayer was answered. And they “spoke the word of God boldly” (meta parrēsias [GK 4244], “with boldness,” “confidently,” “forthrightly”; cf. meta pasēs parrēsias, “with all boldness,” at the close of Acts in 28:31).
4:31 / They had prayed for power, and with power they were answered, in both the short term and the long (though, of course, they must often have prayed along these lines). Immediately the place where they were meeting was shaken, as though by an earthquake—a not uncommon sign of God’s presence (cf. 16:26; Exod. 19:18; Ps. 114:7; Isa. 6:4; Ezek. 38:19; Joel 3:16; Amos 9:5; Hag. 2:6)—and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. In that power they spoke the word of God boldly. We need not suppose that the preaching took place there and then. The force of the Greek is that they made it their practice to preach (in this, in part, lay the long-term answer to their prayer). The view that this is a variant account of the Pentecost narrative and that they were speaking in tongues has no warrant at all. On the momentary experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, see notes on 2:4 and the discussion on 4:8.
4:29–31. At this point the prayer turned to the practical outworking of their dilemma. Creation, revelation, and incarnation are doctrines and important ones. Life and its daily problems are also important to you and to God, so now the prayer turns to motivation. “Sovereign Lord: you made everything; you spoke through David; you anointed Jesus; and now you enable your servants.” They reached out for even more courage, even greater boldness. They continued their witness as God confirmed it through miraculous signs in the name of Jesus.
This was not a prayer for relief, but a prayer for courage, an excellent pattern for the modern church. The prayer assumes dependence and faith. These believers expected to do nothing by themselves; everything rested in the sovereign power of God and the name of Jesus.
How did God respond? The room shook, and he filled them anew with the Holy Spirit and sent them out to speak the word of God boldly. Here they received no baptism, nor did they speak in foreign languages (see chap. 2); it was not necessary. These born-again, functioning believers only needed a fresh filling to continue their effective service.
The model of this prayer is still very applicable for us today. Like these early believers, we need to understand that the self-revealed Creator who sent his Son to earth to die and rise again for our salvation will give us the courage we need to carry out whatever ministry he places before us.
31. After they had prayed, the place where they had gathered shook. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
Not every prayer receives an immediate answer, but in this case God strengthens the faith of the believers by indicating that he has heard their petition. We are reminded of the experience Paul and Silas had in the Philippian jail. While they were praying and singing hymns to God in the middle of the night, suddenly a violent earthquake shook the foundation of the prison (16:26). In like fashion, God showed his divine approval to the apostles by shaking the house where they were staying, and he apparently used an earthquake to accomplish this effect. God gave the apostles a sign that as he shook the house with a quake so he would shake the world with Christ’s gospel.
Look at the parallel between Pentecost and this event. On the day of Pentecost, a violent wind blew and filled the house where the believers were sitting (2:2). Then they saw tongues of fire resting on each of them; “they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them ability” (2:4). After the release of Peter and John, the Christians prayed. Then the place where the believers were meeting shook; “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
The differences between these two events are the blowing of the wind versus the shaking of the meeting place; the external evidence of tongues of fire in the one instance and the internal manifestation of courage in the other; and last, an ability to speak in other tongues at Pentecost over against a boldness to speak the word of God now.
The similarities are striking: the Holy Spirit comes as an answer to prayer (1:14; 4:24–30); the Spirit fills all who are present (2:4; 4:31); and they all proclaim the wonders and the word of God (2:11; 4:31). The believers receive a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who fills them with courage so that they proclaim the Good News. Luke fails to describe to whom the believers courageously speak God’s word; perhaps first in their own circle and then, in direct opposition to the threats of the Sanhedrin, to outsiders.
Thus, the term boldly becomes meaningful and fittingly describes the speaking of the apostles and their helpers. They are the proclaimers of “the word of God,” which in the context of Acts is a synonym for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Luke provides a glimpse of their boldness when he writes in a subsequent passage, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and preaching the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (5:42).
31. And when they had prayed. Luke declareth now that God did not only hear this prayer, but did also testify the same by a visible sign from heaven. For the shaking of the place should, of itself, have done them small good; but it tendeth to another end, that the faithful may know that God is present with them. Finally, it is nothing else but a token of the presence of God. But the fruit followeth, for they are all filled with the Holy Ghost, and endowed with greater boldness. We ought rather to stand upon this second member. For whereas God did declare his power then by shaking the place, it was a rare and extraordinary thing; and whereas it appeared by the effect, that the apostles did obtain that which they desired, this is a perpetual profit of prayer, which is also set before us for an example.
32 And the multitude which believed had one heart and one soul; and no man did say that any of those things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And the apostles did bear witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ with great power; and great grace was upon them all.
34 For there was none among them that lacked: for so many as possessed lands or houses, selling them, they brought the price of those things which were sold,
35 And they laid it at the feet of the apostles: and it was distributed to every man according as he had need.
6 And Joses, which was surnamed of the apostles Barnabas, (which is, The son of comfort,) a Levite, of the country of Cyprus,
37 Whereas he had land, he sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
In v. 31 we are told that the divine response to the prayer is immediate in the form of the shaking of the room where they were gathered together. This form of divine activity, in which the Deity indicates assent or advent, is often remarked on in ancient Greek literature, including of course the LXX (cf. Ps. 17:7–8 LXX; T. Levi 3:9; Josephus, Ant. 7.76–77; Plutarch, Vita Publica 9.6; Lucian, Menip. 9–10). The second half of the verse indicates that the disciples’ prayers were answered not just by a portent but by an empowerment—they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke God’s word with boldness. This is once again Luke’s way of talking about prophetic inspiration and power in speaking and should not be taken as indicating something about the level of sanctification of those involved. The issue here is empowerment for witnessing, not personal spiritual formation or growth.22 The point is empowerment for speech in the face of persecution, not a gift of foreign languages, and so this text is not about a repetition of the Pentecost experience.
Ver. 31. The place was shaken.—When the place in which the congregation was assembled, was shaken, and when they themselves were filled with the Holy Ghost, their prayer received an immediate and direct answer—these events were the Amen of their petition. The connection shows that this shaking of the place, was not a natural or merely accidental occurrence (as Heinrichs and Kuinoel suppose), but a miraculous and direct act of God. Bengel views this trembling of the place as a symbol of the commotions which were at hand, and which the Gospel would produce in every direction, while Baumgarten sees in it a sign that the will of God is able to control all visible objects. We may, in general, regard it both as a sign of the omnipotence of God, to which, indeed, the men who prayed, had appealed, and on which they relied, ver. 24, and also as an accompanying external sign of the internal and invisible influences of the Spirit. The believers had referred to the future, when they prayed that the apostles might appear with boldness in the presence of unbelievers and enemies; but God, who does exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think [Eph. 3:20], answered their prayer immediately, even while none but friends were present, as an earnest and pledge of future mercies.
4:31. The entire episode is brought to a close with this final verse: While they were praying the place where they had gathered began to shake, and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit (4:31, echoing the Pentecost experience, 2:1–4). The second petition that many signs and wonders be performed is fulfilled in the summary statement in Acts 5:12–16 (Talbert 1984, 20). And the first part of their petition, “to speak your message with great boldness” (4:29), is also fulfilled in the immediate context: all of them … began speaking the message of God with boldness (4:31). In fact, this theme of speaking the word of God with “boldness” or “openness” (parrēsia) is another dominant theme not only in this episode (see 4:13, 29; and here in 4:31), but throughout the book of Acts (see 2:29; 9:28; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 26:26), most often in connection with the preaching of Paul. In the very last scene of Acts the audience is left with the image of Paul not only preaching and teaching “without hindrance,” but “boldly” (28:31). Such boldness will surely be needed as the believers face conflict both within and without the community in the next episodes.
4:31. The Lord is sovereign over filling them with the Holy Spirit. God answered their prayer and gave them a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit. They continued to proclaim the Word of God with uncommon courage.
4:31. The Lord’s answer to the believers’ prayer for boldness was preceded by a shaking of their meeting place. The answer also included a supernatural filling with the Holy Spirit (cf. v. 8). When Luke, as here, used a verb form to refer to believers being filled with the Spirit, he usually said the filling was bestowed sovereignly by God. This is in distinction to the imperative in Ephesians 5:18 which states that Christians are responsible for being Spirit-filled.
4:31 When they had prayed, the place … was shaken—a physical expression of the spiritual power that was present. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, indicating their obedience to the Lord, their walking in the light, their yieldedness to Him. They continued to speak the word of God with boldness, a clear answer to their prayer in verse 29.
There are seven times in the Book of Acts when men are said to be filled with or full of the Holy Spirit. Notice the purposes or the results:
- For speaking (2:4; 4:8; and here).
- For serving (6:3).
- For shepherding (11:24).
- For rebuking (13:9).
- For dying (7:55).
4:31 — And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
There is no substitute for believers regularly coming together for earnest prayer. God does amazing things in response to the faith-filled, congregational prayers of His people.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (Vol. 1, pp. 141–142). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 780). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Williams, D. J. (2011). Acts (p. 90). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Gangel, K. O. (1998). Acts (Vol. 5, p. 63). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 170–171). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (2010). Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 1, pp. 189–190). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Witherington, B., III. (1998). The Acts of the Apostles: a socio-rhetorical commentary (p. 204). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Gotthard, V. L., Gerok, C., & Schaeffer, C. F. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Acts (p. 80). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Parsons, M. C. (2008). Acts (p. 67). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
 Marty, W. H. (2014). Acts. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1682). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 364). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1597). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ac 4:31). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.