Cover of Acts of the Apostles, Commentary by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

The Apostle Peter Before the Sanhedrin

An excerpt from The Acts of the Apostles
by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

In this excerpt, the edi­to­r­i­al staff of Ortho­dox Life offers you a glimpse into a new­ly pub­lished vol­ume in the series Com­men­tary on the Holy Scrip­tures of the New Tes­ta­ment by Arch­bish­op Averky (Tau­shev). This work stands apart in an intel­lec­tu­al cli­mate that prizes inno­va­tion over tra­di­tion, head­lines over the Truth, and intel­lec­tu­al­ism over divine rev­e­la­tion. Writ­ing in the tra­di­tion of bib­li­cal exegetes, such as St John Chrysos­tom, Blessed Theo­phy­lact of Bul­gar­ia, and St Theo­phan the Recluse, the work of Arch­bish­op Averky (Tau­shev) pro­vides a com­men­tary that is firm­ly ground­ed in the teach­ing of the Church, man­i­fest­ed in its litur­gi­cal hymnog­ra­phy and the works of the Holy Fathers. Here, he expli­cates the strength of faith exhib­it­ed by the Apos­tle Peter when brought before the San­hedrin for questioning.

Arch­bish­op Averky dis­cuss­es the apos­tles’ tri­al before the San­hedrin who then pro­hib­it­ed them from preach­ing in the name of Jesus Christ.

These events from the com­men­tary lead into the excerpt:

  • Apos­tle Peter’s mirac­u­lous heal­ing of the man lame from birth (3:1–11).
  • St Peter’s ser­mon to the crowd that just wit­nessed the heal­ing and his call to repen­tance (3:12–26).
  • The Impris­on­ment of the Apos­tles Peter and John as a reac­tion by the San­hedrin to their preaching.
  • The con­se­quences of Peter’s ser­mon: five thou­sand are con­vert­ed to Christ (4:1–4).

Arch­bish­op Averky writes:


Acts Chapter Four

Questioning by the Sanhedrin, Prohibition to Preach in the Name of Jesus. The Apostles Are Released (4:5–22).

On the next day, the meet­ing of the San­hedrin took place. This was obvi­ous­ly a for­mal and full ses­sion of the San­hedrin, as this judg­ment over the apos­tles was con­sid­ered very impor­tant. Among them was the retired High Priest Annas as well as Caiaphas, who had con­demned Jesus Christ to death. Also present were the hereto­fore-unknown (in the Gospel nar­ra­tive) John and Alexan­der, mem­bers of the high priest’s fam­i­ly, who most like­ly had sig­nif­i­cant author­i­ty in the San­hedrin at the time, being relat­ed to the high priest. Hav­ing placed the accused “in the midst,” as was cus­tom­ary (see John 8:3), they asked, “By what pow­er or by what name have you done this?”

The mem­bers of the San­hedrin, of course, knew that the apos­tles per­formed the mir­a­cle by the Name of Jesus Christ, but they want­ed the apos­tles to incrim­i­nate them­selves in heresy, blas­phe­my, or even sedi­tious inten­tions, or per­haps they hoped that the apos­tles would sim­ply recant in fear.

Icon of Saint Peter from first half of the 7th century, Mt Sinai.
Icon of Saint Peter from first half of the 7th cen­tu­ry, Mt Sinai.

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spir­it, said to them …” He was filled with the Holy Spir­it to defend the just cause, as Jesus Christ promised to His dis­ci­ples before (see Matt 10:19–20). St Peter answered the ques­tion with unique pow­er, direct­ness, and bold­ness. Still giv­ing respect to the law­ful authority—even though it was unworthy—he began with the rev­er­en­tial address to the “rulers of the peo­ple and elders of Israel.” His sub­se­quent word choice—“If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a help­less man”—trenchantly and unmis­tak­ably demon­strat­ed the unfair­ness of the judg­ment to which the apos­tles were sub­ject­ed. Indeed, they showed mer­cy to an unfor­tu­nate per­son: was this a rea­son to bring them before a tri­bunal? At the same time, the apos­tle tri­umphant­ly and bold­ly wit­nessed before them all that the mir­a­cle indeed did hap­pen and more­over was per­formed “by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you cru­ci­fied, whom God raised from the dead.”

Then, cit­ing the same prophe­cy that the Lord used con­cern­ing Him­self, that is, Psalm 117:22 in Matthew 21:42, the apos­tle called the Lord Jesus Christ “the stone which was reject­ed by you builders, which has become the chief cor­ner­stone.” Then he added, “Nor is there sal­va­tion in any oth­er.” He meant that Jesus, Whom they cru­ci­fied, became the cor­ner­stone of the new edi­fice of the king­dom of God on earth, and only by His Name can any­one attain sal­va­tion, because He alone is the Redeemer of mankind from sin, the curse, and death.

These words made such a strong impres­sion on the mem­bers of the San­hedrin that they did not know how to judge the apos­tles. They were amazed first of all by the unusu­al bold­ness of Peter’s con­fes­sion of Christ before the whole San­hedrin. Effec­tive­ly, he had switched roles with them, no longer the accused but the accuser, charg­ing them with the death of Christ. They won­dered at his bold­ness and his ora­to­ry, see­ing that both he and John were “une­d­u­cat­ed and untrained men.” They rec­og­nized in them the dis­ci­ples of Christ and were assured that they were con­tin­u­ing the work of Jesus, which was so abhor­rent to them. At the same time, the pres­ence of the healed man placed a seal of silence on their lips. They could say noth­ing to con­tra­dict the real­i­ty of the mir­a­cle per­formed by the apostles.

We must never go against God’s law... merely to curry favor with earthly rulers.

Hav­ing been placed in this dif­fi­cult posi­tion, they sent out the apos­tles to con­fer among them­selves about the best way of deal­ing with these unpleas­ant mir­a­cle-work­ers. They were seized with inde­ci­sion, evi­dent­ly as a result of every­thing that had occurred recent­ly, begin­ning with the res­ur­rec­tion of Christ. It is pos­si­ble that among them were peo­ple like Joseph of Ari­math­ea and Nicode­mus, and for that rea­son their deci­sion was quite mild: all they did was for­bid the apos­tles to “speak at all [or] teach in the name of Jesus.”

Clear­ly, this was the deci­sion of peo­ple much dis­con­cert­ed by cir­cum­stances. “O the fol­ly!” St John Chrysos­tom com­ments on this, and continues:

Per­suad­ed that He was risen, and hav­ing received this proof of it, they expect­ed that He whom death could not hold, could be cast into the shade by their machi­na­tions. What can match the fol­ly of this! Such is the nature of wicked­ness: it has no eyes for any­thing, but on all occa­sions it is thrown into per­tur­ba­tion.1

With amaz­ing courage and bold­ness, the apos­tles both answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to lis­ten to you more than to God, you judge.” More­over, they open­ly said that they could not stop preach­ing about events to which they were eye­wit­ness­es. The Sanhedrin’s fear of the peo­ple fur­ther pre­vent­ed them from harm­ing the apos­tles, and Peter and John were set free. Here we see the obvi­ous moral vic­to­ry of the apos­tles, but also the threat­en­ing signs of immi­nent per­se­cu­tion for their faith, which was to befall the apos­tles them­selves and the first gen­er­a­tion of Chris­tians. The apos­tles’ answer to the San­hedrin gives us a clear indi­ca­tion of how to act when earth­ly pow­ers require us to do some­thing con­trary to the divine law and our con­science: we must nev­er go against God’s law or the guid­ance of our con­science mere­ly to cur­ry favor with earth­ly rulers.


Arch­bish­op Averky (Tau­shev) (1906–1976) was the fourth abbot of Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery in Jor­danville, New York. Born in Impe­r­i­al Rus­sia before the Bol­she­vik rev­o­lu­tion, he went on to become one of the lead­ing voic­es and teach­ers of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church, which he served in both Bul­gar­ia and the USA. Wide­ly regard­ed for con­sis­tent­ly uphold­ing tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian teach­ing and expo­si­tion of the New Tes­ta­ment, he is best known for his com­men­tary on the Book of Rev­e­la­tion, The Apoc­a­lypse: In the Teach­ing of Ancient Chris­tian­i­ty.

Cover of Acts of the Apostles by Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)

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Arch­bish­op Averky’s The Acts of the Apos­tles
from Holy Trin­i­ty Bookstore.

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