The Gall of Bitterness
Originally scheduled for July 1
In Acts chapter 8 we find the interesting story
of Simon the sorcerer. We need not going to details; it is
sufficient for us to notice that Simon attempted to buy the ability
to lay his hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit. Peter, who
was asked to sell, told Simon quite bluntly his heart was in the
wrong place. In so doing he used an interesting expression: "gall of
bitterness." This is found in the King James and New American
Standard; the New International translates it differently, ignoring
the colloquial expression. The word which is translated "gall" is
used in only one other instance in the New Testament. It is found in
Matthew's account of the crucifixion, where Jesus is offered wine
mixed with gall.
What is gall? As the ancients would've used the
word, it is a secretion of the liver. The substance is rather yellow
and green colored and tastes extremely better — though why anyone
would want to taste it I could not say. The people of Peter's time
believed (incorrectly) that gall taken from a reptile was the source
of its poison. Thus, gall could be seen as a somewhat poisonous
substance. The wine offered to Jesus is in some Gospels described as
vinegar, whose original meaning is "sour wine." The gall was added
to counteract the sour taste and was believed to have some
anesthetic quality as well.
The question occurs: why did our Savior refused
to drink it?
The passage in Acts gives us one
answer, symbolically. He wanted to be clear that there was no
bitterness within him. He did not go to his death cursing those who
nailed him to the cross, or those who sent him there. Rather, he
asked his Heavenly Father to forgive them. It is an example to us
that bitterness has no place in a Christian's life.
More obviously, it was our Savior's
intent to suffer the penalty of the cross to the fullest extent
possible. He rejected the wine until the very end of the
crucifixion, when its anesthetic properties could do him no good.
The wine he took at the very end before saying, "It is finished" was
not mixed with gall. Even though the wine and gall was offered to
him as a matter of kindness, he refused it in obedience to the
It was our Lord's intention to drink the cup
his Father had given him, not the cup of wine. The notes to the
ancient Geneva Bible put it this way: "Christ took no comfort, that
in Him we might be filled with comfort."
Does the gall of bitterness afflict you today,
Christian? Examine yourself for this, and then take it to your Lord
in prayer before you partake of Communion. In giving his body and
blood, laid out before you, he had no bitterness. He would drive any
bitterness from you — if you will but ask. Examine yourself, and
then partake in a worthy manner.