Explore the Bible: Acts 3:1-2
Chapters 3 and 4 of Acts center on a miracle performed in the name of Jesus in the Temple. We don’t know exactly how long after the events of Acts 2 this took place, but the impression left by the Biblical account is that it wasn’t long after Pentecost. This is particularly true if the number 5000 mentioned in 4:4 is the total number of believers, rather than a new group of 5000. (I lean toward the first interpretation, for reasons I won’t expand on here.) Thus, it comes at a time when the city of Jerusalem is still widely aware of the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and people are beginning to hear that this Jesus is still alive. Many have believed, but God also used miracles to bring opportunities to preach the Gospel and to validate the message of the apostles.
One question raised about this miracle is exactly where it took place. It was definitely in the Temple precincts, but the specifics given in the text aren’t as obvious to us as we might like. Luke tells us that the lame beggar was carried to the “Beautiful Gate” of the Temple. However, no gate had as its given name “Beautiful.” The name was probably a popular nickname for one of the gates of the Temple. Knowing which gate Luke meant gives us some insight into both the possible audience for the miracle and how the events following the lame man’s healing flowed.
The prime candidate for the “Beautiful Gate” is the gate that led from the outer Court of the Gentiles to the Court of Women, which was the beginning of the actual sacred space of the Temple. Gentiles were not allowed to progress beyond this gate, and warning signs were posted threatening death to any who dared. This was the Nicanor Gate, which was unusual in that it was covered with Corinthians bronze instead of gold or silver. While scholars aren’t certain, this is likely the gate Josephus refers to in “The Jewish War” as being more valuable than the other gates covered in silver or bronze (5.5.3). If this were the case, it must have been a beautiful gate indeed, and to have earned that designation from those who attended at the Temple. It would also explain why the lame man chose that location to beg; if it was at the entrance to the Temple proper, he would encounter many Jews going in to worship who might be more inclined to bestow alms on a poor man as a good deed.
If this was the gate, the narrative flow would look like this:
1) Peter and John, entering the Temple from the Court of the Gentiles, see the beggar there and heal him in the name of Jesus.
2) The man joins Peter and John in entering the Temple, where they would have participated in the afternoon prayers. For the lame man, this might have been his first time to go into the actual Temple.
3) As they left, the people, who recognized the man and had seen him enter the Temple praising God, crowd around Peter, John, and the man in one of the exterior porticos, Solomon’s Colonnade. As this crowd gathers, Peter begins to preach.
4) Given that they were still within the outer courts of the Temple, word would spread to someone who would report to the priests, who sent our representatives to stop Peter’s sermon, which was accomplished by arresting Peter and John.
While this is not the only possible solution to the location of the healing of the lame man, it does make sense and provide a reasonable flow of events. If Peter was preaching in Solomon’s Colonnade, a significant crowd could have gathered, resulting in another large response to the Gospel message. The church continued to grow, but now began to face serious opposition from the leaders of the Temple. This account also shows us the Spirit-filled boldness of Peter, which should inspire us to be bold as we face opposition to the Gospel in our own witness.
NOTE: There is a nice schematic plan of Herod’s Temple on the Bible History Online web site.