Acts 5:29

ESV But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
NIV Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than human beings!
NASB But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.
CSB Peter and the apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than people.
NLT But Peter and the apostles replied, 'We must obey God rather than any human authority.
KJV Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

What does Acts 5:29 mean?

This statement is a crucial part of Christian ethics. While believers are commanded to "submit" to earthly government (Romans 13:1), that is not always the same as "obeying" government. Peter and the other apostles live out a clear example of this in the early chapters of the book of Acts. When commanded to sin—to ignore the commands of Jesus—these men refuse. At the same time, they accept the civil consequences of their choice.

The apostles stand before the Sanhedrin, explaining why they broke a direct command to stop preaching about Jesus. When the Sanhedrin first gave the order, Peter and John responded, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge" (Acts 4:19). Peter and John stood before the priests, elders, and scribes of the Mosaic law and told them the restriction was contrary to what God wanted. And yet, that same group seems confused as to why Peter and John rejoined fellow Christians and continued their preaching once released (Acts 5:12–16).

Jesus prepared His disciples well for this moment. Several times, during altercations with the Pharisees, He taught them to follow God's commandments rather than man's tradition (Mark 7:8). He told them, "Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell" (Luke 12:4–5). He told them the world would hate and persecute them because they followed Him (John 15:18–20). In fact, He told them men would drag them before synagogues and courts and flog them (Matthew 10:17), which is exactly what will happen now (Acts 5:40). But the apostles are to "bear witness before them and the Gentiles" (Matthew 10:18).

Again, the apostles assert that the Jewish ruling council neither serves nor speaks for God. They insist that the council's archenemy, a traveling teacher from Nazareth, has overcome their assassination and risen from the dead. It's sad the council members can't deeply consider the apostles' words, especially as those claims align with the Law and the Prophets they claim to know so well. But they're more afraid of losing earthly power than interested in finding God's forgiveness.
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