WHAT IS THE “SENATE” IN ACTS 5:21?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The term appears only once in the Authorized Version, Acts 5:21: “And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.” What is this “senate?”
In early Acts, the 12 Apostles are performing miracles to bear record of Jesus’ resurrection. Such is the case in chapter 5: “ There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.  Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,  And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.  But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,  Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”
Notice, the High Priest—Israel’s head religious leader—is a Sadducee (verse 17). The Jewish sect known as the Sadducees did not believe in the miraculous or supernatural—angels, spirits, and resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8). Consequently, they took great offense when the Apostles preached about Jesus coming back from the dead! “And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1-2).
In chapter 5, the Apostles have performed additional miracles, further incensing Israel’s apostate religious leaders. Therefore, they throw the Apostles into the common prison with the worst criminals, but the Lord sends an angel to rescue them. Again, the Apostles are out preaching in public. The apostate Jewish leaders, unaware of the escape, assemble the “council” and the “senate” to try the Apostles. “Council” is the Sanhedrin, the 71-member Jewish Supreme Court (of which the High Priest was head). (For more information, see our “Sanhedrin” study linked at the end of this article.) As for the “senate,” this would not simply be a portion of the Jewish leaders but rather all of them. The full Sanhedrin—each and every member—is implied in the “senate.”
“Senate” is from the Latin word “senatus,” derived from “senex” (“old man”). All the old men leading the nation Israel have assembled to persecute God’s preachers. The Greek term rendered “senate” is “gerousia,” from “geron” (“old”). Our English word “gerontology,” the scientific study of aging and problems of old people, finds its origin here. The chief problem of these “old people” in Acts 5:21 is unbelief!