What does Acts 5:36 mean?
ESV: For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
NIV: Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
NASB: For, some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.
CSB: Some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his followers were dispersed and came to nothing.
NLT: 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.
KJV: For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
Verse Commentary:
Gamaliel, a most-respected scribe of the Pharisees, is trying to calm the Sanhedrin. Sadducees in the group are bent on killing Jesus' apostles. The Sadducees were perturbed when the apostles taught that Jesus rose from the dead. Now, the apostles insist that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, that God raised Him, and that He is sitting at God's right hand (Acts 5:30–33). And, they say, it was the Sanhedrin who killed Him!

Gamaliel points out that this isn't the first time some wayward Jew, "claiming to be somebody," gathered a following and then disappeared from history. His mention of Theudas, however, is puzzling at first. The only Theudas remembered by history was active in AD 45. Even if Jesus was crucified later than AD 33, and even if the apostles were active in Jerusalem for years, this trial still occurs before that Theudas came on the scene. Gamaliel says Theudas precedes Judas the Galilean who "rose up in the day of the census"—which was the time Jesus was born (Luke 2:1–2; Acts 5:37). Logically, this must be a different Theudas than the one Josephus the historian mentions. "Theudas" is Greek for "God-given"; it's very possible the name is pseudonymous.

The scribe's point is that the Sanhedrin doesn't have to risk political ruin. The fact that history has no memory of this other Theudas is somewhat the whole point Gamaliel is making. Like Theudas and Judas the Galilean, if God isn't behind a movement, He will dissolve it eventually. This line of thinking isn't perfectly consistent with God's intentions for the leaders He places over His people, but it serves the apostles well enough. Instead of executing the Twelve, the Sanhedrin beats them and lets them go (Acts 5:40).
Verse Context:
Acts 5:27–42 occurs in the aftermath of a miraculous jailbreak. The chief priests arrested the apostles for teaching and healing in Jesus' name (Acts 5:17–18). On the morning of the inquiry, the guards find the prison cells empty and the apostles, again, preaching in the temple courtyard (Acts 5:22, 25). The guards bring the apostles back, and the Sanhedrin questions them. When the apostles insist Jesus is alive, the priests want them killed. But a Pharisee, Gamaliel, calms the situation. The Sanhedrin do flog the apostles before releasing them, starting the long history of physical persecution against Christ-followers. Verse 29 is a cornerstone of Christian ethics: that God's will is worth suffering for.
Chapter Summary:
The apostles continue to make hard decisions in the name of Jesus, both inside and outside the church. When Ananias and Sapphira lie to God, the Holy Spirit inspires Peter to pronounce God's judgment on them, protecting the church from the love of the world. Despite the Sanhedrin's watchful eye—and direct orders (Acts 4:17–18)—the apostles continue to preach and heal openly. The guards arrest the apostles, but the Sanhedrin settles for beating them instead of capital punishment. The apostles consider it an honor to suffer on behalf of their Savior.
Chapter Context:
In Acts 5, persecution from unbelievers begins to accelerate. The Sanhedrin has become aware the apostles teach that Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 4). Now, they start to push back in earnest, arresting and beating the apostles. Soon, a mob will kill Stephen, a deacon (Acts 7:54–60), and the Sanhedrin will empower Saul to run down and arrest any Jesus-follower he can find (Acts 8:1–3). The apostles will stay in Jerusalem. Other Jesus-followers will carry His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation with God into the Roman Empire and beyond. The apostles' faithfulness and submission to the Holy Spirit is why we have the gospel message today.
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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