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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
The Jerusalem Visit
That in recording details of Paul’s fifth Jerusalem visit Luke’s mind was fixed on the main purposes of his narrative comes out quite clearly in the fact that he ignored the bringing of the Collection to the church in Jerusalem. The Collection for the people of God in Jerusalem and Judaea, in the circumstances in which they found themselves as a result of famine and the constant disturbances that were taking place, had taken up much of Paul’s time (see 1 Corinthians 1.1-5; 2 Corinthians 8-9), and he clearly considered it of prime importance as a means of cementing unity between the Jewish Christians and their Gentile counterparts. And yet Luke totally ignores it when describing the Jerusalem visit in Acts.
This is another of Luke’s ‘silences’, designed to ensure that the emphasis does not go in the wrong place (compare the deliberate lack of a direct mention of the Holy Spirit as such in Luke 13-24, even when approaching the hour of His coming). He was here rather concerned to demonstrate the spiritual oneness of the church (verse 17-18), the success of the Good News (verses 19-20), and the circumstances that led up to Paul’s arrest (verse 21 onwards), in order to stress Jerusalem’s repeated and final rejection of the messengers of the Messiah. He was concerned to demonstrate that what was true in the early days after Pentecost was still true. Love of the brethren was still strong, fruitfulness and expansion were still taking place among both Jews and Gentiles, and the retaliation of Satan, which finally brings about God’s will, was still occurring. But above all he wanted to demonstrate that Jerusalem was no longer central in God’s purposes. These things are what Acts has been all about.
The rejection of its Messiah by Jerusalem, and of Jerusalem by its Messiah, had been made clear in chapter 12. Peter had then ‘departed for another place’. However, there was a sense in which Paul’s coming had given it another opportunity. But the Temple would now symbolically ‘close its doors’ against God’s messengers for ever, and the only Apostle left in Jerusalem would be transferred to Rome. Furthermore, in the parallel passage in 26.28-32 (for parallels see introduction to 19.21 and Introduction) King Agrippa II (son of the king in chapter 12) who even now controlled the appointment of High Priests and their vestments and had overall oversight over the Temple and its worship, would choose to do the same. Both Jerusalem and its King again said no to Jesus Christ. So while the church in Jerusalem welcomes Him, Jerusalem itself rejects Him once again and finally. All that remains for it is for it to be destroyed. Stephen had stressed the dual offer to Israel of its Saviours (see his speech), and especially of the Righteous One. Luke in Acts brings out His dual post-resurrection rejection, in chapter 12 and here.
Paul Proves His True Dedication in Jerusalem and His Conformity With the Law And Does Nothing That Is Worthy of Death But the Doors of the Temple Are Closed Against Him (21.17-30).
21.17 ‘And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.’
Arriving in Jerusalem Paul and his companions were ‘received gladly’ by the whole church. Their welcome was friendly and genuine as befitted fellow-Christians. It is probable that at this stage these people knew nothing about the Collection. They welcomed them for what they were. There is no hint here of opposition (which, of course, did not come from them). All was well with the church.
21.18 ‘And the day following Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.’
On the next day the Gentile representatives arranged to meet James, along with all the elders. Paul also went with them. The fact that all the Jerusalem church elders also made themselves present meant that it was an official meeting. But the non-mention of the Apostles suggests that they were elsewhere obeying Jesus’ command to take the Good News to the whole world.
This majoring on ‘us’ confirms that the question of handing over the Collection was to be dealt with. Note that Paul went ‘with them’. He was not to be seen as the man in charge. These men came as individual and official representatives of their churches to fellowship with their brethren in the Jerusalem church. Yet both here and from this point on, as he has earlier, Luke still ignores the Collection, skipping over anything to do with that and moving on to Paul’s description of his Gentile mission (although he undoubtedly knew about it - 24.17). He is more concerned to bring out the wonderful unity and love in the church.
For important though the Collection was it was not important to what Luke was trying to get over. Indeed it might have distracted attention from it. (We modern commentators equally ensure that it does obtain major attention and thus distract attention from Luke’s main purpose). He wanted the attention to be concentrated on what really matters, the success of the word around the world, the wonderful unity of the people of God, and the resulting arrest of Paul with its indication of Jerusalem’s rejection of the Good News.
21.19 ‘And when he had saluted them, he rehearsed one by one the things which God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry.’
Then Paul greeted them and gave them a full account, item by item, of all that God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry (and that of his companions). This was what Luke wanted to get over rather than discussions about the Collection, that the word had been continually effective and had spread and prospered.
21.20 ‘And they, when they heard it, glorified God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands (literally ‘tens of thousands’) there are among the Jews of those who have believed; and they are all zealous for the law.”
Their response was that they glorified God. They truly rejoiced to hear of what God had been doing. And they approved of it too. Then they pointed out to Paul that there were also grounds for glorifying God in the Jewish church. Here also many thousands, even tens of thousands, had come to believe in Jesus Christ. We need not restrict this numbering to Jerusalem. The reference is to the acknowledged Jewish church as a whole in the whole region, in contrast with Gentiles. The Jewish church too was multiplying. And because they were Jewish Christians they were zealous for the Law. A Jew who became a Christian became a better Jew.
So it is emphasised that among both Jews and Gentiles the word was being powerfully effective.
But the elders then went on to draw attention to a problem, and that was that among the Jewish Christians were those who were only too willing to believe the worst about Paul.
21.21 “And they have been informed concerning you, that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk after the customs.”
For some had been informed that Paul was teaching Jews who became Christians to cease being Jews, not to have their children circumcised and not to walk in the customs of the Jews. Such twisting of the truth, when men have been defeated in an argument, has been commonplace throughout the ages. It is amazing how thwarted men, even Christians, can so dishonour Christ, but it regularly happens. They had been told that he was teaching them to forsake Moses. (Do we detect the hand of the Christian Judaisers at work here? Defeated in their arguments they retaliate with lies). That this was untrue we know because Paul had had Timothy circumcised because he was half a Jew. And nowhere do we learn of Paul teaching Jews no longer to be racially, and by customary behaviour, Jews. He was not concerned with race and customs when he taught. He was only concerned with central truth. As long as their race and customs did not lead men astray from the truth they could hold to what they liked. And, as we have seen, we have reason to believe that Paul himself continued to observe Jewish customs. They had been his fashion of life from his youth up. What was good in them he wanted to retain (they were not a burden to Paul now that he saw that they were not an essential for salvation). And he knew that observance of them could aid the witness among Jews. What he would not do was impose them on others, or make them necessary for salvation.
21.22 “What is it therefore? They will certainly hear that you are come.”
These elders knew that it was inevitable therefore that some of these prejudiced Jewish Christians would hear of Paul’s arrival and probably become incensed, and angry at his presence in Jerusalem. It seemed therefore a good idea to these godly men that Paul should prove his Jewish credentials so that such people might recognise that they were wrong about Paul after all. It was a suggestion that was both sensible and helpful, taking into account the weaknesses of weaker Christians.
21.23-24 “Do therefore this that we say to you. We have four men who have a vow on them. These take, and purify yourself with them, and be at charges for them, that they may shave their heads, and all will know that there is no truth in the things of which they have been informed concerning you, but that you yourself also walk in an orderly way, keeping the law.”
So their suggestion was that he meet the costs of four young Jewish Christian men who were involved in a Nazirite vow. This would involve him purifying himself in the Temple for seven days with them for only then could his offerings be acceptable. And he would thus be sharing in their last week of consecration before they shaved their heads, and presented the hair to God with appropriate sacrifices. It would be a sharing in their consecration but not a strict participation. He would not be taking a Nazirite vow. Yet he would be offering sacrifices and thankofferings and rededicating himself and expressing oneness with these young men.
Bearing the costs of young Nazirites was a recognised form of showing generosity and giving to God among the Jews. King Agrippa I had used this method in order to make himself popular with the Jews. It was a regular practise among the more wealthy Jews who wanted to express their gratitude to God, and especially with those who wanted to be seen as pious. And it was a true kindness, for the offerings that had to be made by a Nazirite could be costly, and many had entered into their dedication in the hope that some noble benefactor would come forward at the end to meet their costs. No one would think it strange then if Paul did so, or consider that Paul was trying to muscle in on the dedication of the young men. All would see it as a good and noble and fully Jewish action.
And the result would be that all Jewish Christians would recognise that Paul was truly faithful to, and approved of, the customs of the Jews with regard to the Law of Moses. They would have their doubts laid aside.
Someone might cavil at the thought of Paul offering sacrifices. But we have reason to believe that he had observed the Passover at Philippi (20.6). And we must remember that the One Who certainly had no need to do so, regularly did participate in sacrifices, as we know for certain from the Last Supper. He did it in order to fulfil all righteousness, just as He was baptised for the same reason (Matthew 3.15). The full revelation of the end of all sacrifices was a truth which had not yet burst on the church. And we can be sure that all Jewish Christians within range of Jerusalem constantly offered sacrifices as worship and dedicatory offerings, and that the Apostles, including Paul, approved.
21.25 “But as touching the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, giving judgment that they should keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from fornication.”
The repetition of these stipulations may well have resulted from something said by Paul, for the elders then immediately assured Paul that they did not expect this of Gentiles. Indeed they had written to all believing Gentiles that all that was expected of them was to keep themselves from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what is strangled, and from fornication, just as had been decided earlier in Jerusalem (see on chapter 15). It would appear from this that they had circulated the decree wherever they knew of Gentile Christians being present. All that was asked of Christian Gentiles was that they would make it possible for pious Jewish Christians to have fellowship with them by avoiding the eating of blood, and that they would avoid all attachment to idolatry and sexual misbehaviour.
21.26 “Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them went into the temple, declaring the fulfilment of the days of purification, until the offering was offered for every one of them.”
It should be noted that there is no suggestion that Paul saw any objection to this at all. It would seem that he willingly and happily carried out the suggestion, joining the Nazirites in the Temple and purifying himself alongside them for their last seven days, so that his own offerings could be accepted, and covering all the costs of their offerings until their vows were satisfactorily completed. There is no hint at all of disapproval in Luke’s narrative.
‘Declaring the fulfilment of the days of purification.’ That is, declaring to those officiating at the Temple that he was entering into an official seven day purification, and the final seven days of the Nazirite vows. This would ensure that at the final point when the vows were finalised he would be seen as absolutely ‘clean’ from any pollution of any kind. It thus confirmed to all that to him being ‘clean’ was seen as being important. (This was not just a normal purifying from ‘uncleanness’. That would take place outside the Temple. Paul would not have entered the Temple if he had been ‘unclean’. This was a kind of double guarantee purifying)
There is no reason to doubt that Paul would be quite happy to do this when acting as a Jew among Jews. The previous visit that he had made to Jerusalem had been because of a similar vow (18.18, 22). If he could win Jews to Christ by doing this, or ensure the maintenance of their faith in Christ as Jews, he would be only too pleased to do it, especially as it was so clearly of concern to the leadership of the church who were behaving in an exemplary fashion with regard to the decision made earlier in Jerusalem.
And indeed what happened next cannot really be laid at the door of this behaviour. The men involved were haters of Paul (some of them had been planning to kill him when he sailed from Corinth, and others had tried to kill him in Asia Minor), and they would have constantly been on the lookout for how they could trap him whatever had happened here. They had already revealed that they had an almost pathological hatred for him. Had they not caught him here they would no doubt have caught him this way some other time, unless he avoided the Temple altogether. We do not do well if we blame what followed on this perfectly admirable scheme of the elders at Jerusalem. To do so is simply to reflect our own prejudice. (It is interesting how many who criticise Paul for this expect everyone to be doing the same thing in some supposed Millennium when it would be far less acceptable).
21.27-28 “And when the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help. This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place, and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple, and has defiled this holy place.”
The first few days went by perfectly satisfactorily. There would in fact have been no outcry had it not been that ‘the Jews from Asia’ saw him in the Temple. As they had recognised Trophimus elsewhere (verse 29) some of them must have been Ephesians. These had already been spoken of as ‘hardened and disobedient’ and as ‘speaking evil of the Way’ (19.8-9). They had in fact probably been keeping their eyes open for him, and when they saw him in the Temple their evil surfaced. Out of total prejudice they just assumed the worst about him. They had no reasonable grounds for it. The truth was that they hated him and wanted him dead, and truth came second to that. There is nothing to be said which can soften the suggestion that they were wholly evil. They knew perfectly well that they were calling for him to be beaten to death, but did not take the trouble to ascertain the facts (which their own Law insisted that they must do - Deuteronomy 13.14). They would look into that once he was dead. It was his death they wanted, no matter how obtained. There was nothing pious about this but all that was wicked. They were nothing but would be murderers. And we can be sure that if they had not got him this way, they would have got him somehow. They were determined assassins, although they would have convinced themselves otherwise.
They sought to achieve their ends by rousing the people. They declared, totally untruthfully, that ‘this is the one’ who teaches all men everywhere ‘against the people, and against the Law, and against ‘this place’ (the temple)’. This was precisely the charge that had been laid against Stephen (6.13). How this suggestion could tie in with what he was doing in the Temple only they could explain. But they were not interested in truth. They were the worst kind of Jew.
The charge was not true. Paul certainly never spoke against the people as such. He showed continual respect for the Temple (as he makes clear in his speech). And he respected the Law and lived by it. His arguments concerning the Law actually upheld the Law (Romans 3.31). All he did when he appeared to speak against it was reveal as foolish certain misrepresentations of the Law as proclaimed by the Judaisers (who as far as we know represented no one but themselves).
But however heinous these things might have seemed to be to uninformed Jews, they were not punishable under Roman justice by death. There was only one crime that allowed instant execution. Bringing a Gentile into the inner courts. There were in fact notices warning of this, and one discovered by an archaeologist read, "No man of another nation is to enter within the fence and enclosure round the temple. And whoever is caught will have himself to blame that his death ensues." (The fence was a stone balustrade about four and a half feet/one and a half metres in height). So that was the crime that they now accused him of. And they compounded their sin by pretending that their complaint was for pious reasons, ‘this holy place’, as though they were really concerned about its holiness. They were revealing themselves to be the most despicable and hypocritical of people, for it was they who were defiling the holy place by their false and unreasonable charges. Yet they tried to accuse him of doing so. They were piling evil upon evil.
21.29 ‘For they had before seen with him in the city Trophimus the Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.’
Gracious Luke then tries to find some excuse for them. He finds their total evil hard to understand. And he points out that they had earlier seen Paul with the Gentile Trophimus in the city. That is why they then ‘supposed’ that he had brought him into the inner courts when he was dedicating himself. But you do not kill a man in the basis of ‘supposes’. They certainly ‘supposed’ it, but it was totally without justification, and was simply the product of their own prejudiced and perverse minds. Furthermore it was unlikely, because all doors to the Temple were policed by Levites, one of whose duties was to ensure that no Gentile, whether accidentally or deliberately, entered the inner courts. And it was inexcusable because their own Law said that they must enquire carefully into such a situation before doing anything. Luke gives an explanation, but it is no excuse. There is no excuse for jumping to conclusions simply on the basis of prejudice, especially on so serious a matter (Deuteronomy 13.14).
21.30 ‘And all the city was moved, and the people ran together, and they laid hold on Paul, and dragged him out of the temple, and straightway the doors were shut.’
The effect of the malicious cries of these people was to ‘move’ others, so that many people ran together and ‘all the city’ was involved (clearly not all in the city would be involved, it is hyperbole, but Luke intends us to see that it was so in effect. The whole of Jerusalem is rejecting Christ’s messenger), and when they gathered what seemed to be the situation they seized Paul and dragged him from the Temple (the shedding of such blood could not take place in the holy place). And ‘as soon as he was out the doors were shut’. What an ominous sound that has. Luke is bringing out that the doors of the Temple clanged shut on the messenger of God and on his suffering, as they had also shut out Jesus when He suffered ‘outside the camp’. Yet another was being driven ‘outside the camp’.
‘Immediately the doors were shut.’ Compare (of Peter), ‘and he departed and went to another place’ (12.17). Both statements were significant for the future of both the Temple and the city. We remember also Jesus’ words, ‘How often would I have gathered your children --- but you would not -- your house is left to you desolate’ (Luke 13.34). Note also that the verb ‘were shut’ is in the passive voice, often used to depict God’s actions. Not only did the Jews shut the doors, but God shut them. He was with Paul on the outside leaving Jerusalem for good.
We note here that in the parallel section in 26.28-32 King Agrippa II (son of Agrippa I of chapter 12) also closes his heart against him. Both king and people once again confirm their rejection of their Messiah.
Paul Is Arrested And Speaks To The Crowd Giving His Own Testimony. They Reply ‘Away With Him’ (21.31-22.29).
At this point begins the remarkable account of Paul’s imprisonment, trials and treatment at the hands of men in Jerusalem and Caesarea (from 21.31-26.32). It could well have been said of him also, ‘you will be delivered into the hands of men’ (Luke 9.44; 24.7). What follows can only really be understood by those who understood the situation in Palestine. Hyrcanus and Antipater had a century before supported Caesar when he was having a difficult time in possessing his empire and as a result the Jews were given special privileges, being looked on as allies rather than just as a conquered people. And the peculiarities of their religion were thus assured to them. Nevertheless the Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people and could never be happy under Gentile control. Matters became worse when the failures of their rulers resulted in Judaea coming under direct Roman rule through procurators, although their ruling body the Sanhedrin continued to have authority in religious affairs, and in practise considerable control in political affairs as well because the people were more responsive to them. The wise procurator kept on good terms with the Sanhedrin if at all possible (it was easier said than done). There was an uneasy peace between the procurators and the Sanhedrin, and a love-hate relationship, and the procurators had to recognise that while they could enforce their decisions through the auxiliary legions quartered in Palestine, the people looked more to the Sanhedrin because they were Jewish and were more responsive to them. It was necessary, if peace was to be maintained and harmony achieved, that the Sanhedrin was kept in harness. On the other hand the procurators in the end were in total control, and had the armed forces which ensured it, as the Sanhedrin bitterly recognised. It was they who were responsible to Caesar for the peace of the realm.
The Sanhedrin was composed of the chief priests and influential Sadducees, leading lay elders of the aristocracy and leading Pharisees. The chief priests and Sadducees controlled the Temple and its revenues, but the Pharisees had the hearts of the people, and wielded their power through the synagogues, local places of worship where Jews congregated on the Sabbath and recited the Shema and the eighteen benedictions, together with formal prayer, listened to the reading of the Scriptures, and heard them expounded by their teachers, often Pharisees. The Pharisees did not control the synagogues, for they were controlled by appointed lay elders, but their influence through them was great because of the respect in which they were held. The Sadducees, to whom a large number of the priests belonged, including especially the Chief Priests who controlled Temple affairs, did not believe in the resurrection from the dead, nor in angels. They were very politically minded and believed in freewill and the non-interference of God in human affairs (which was very convenient) and accepted only the Law of Moses as Scripture, of which they emphasised the ritual aspect. The Pharisees accepted ‘the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms’ as Scripture, believed wholeheartedly in the resurrection from the dead, and in angels and predestination, sought by their lives to attain to eternal life, held to complicated rituals of cleansing and the need to observe the Law of Moses according to their tenets and were looked up to by the people.
Under the Romans the Sanhedrin had responsibility for religious affairs and could try cases related thereto, but they did not have the ability to pass the death sentence except probably in cases of extreme blasphemy. Civil justice was mainly in the hands of the procurator. And he was responsible to Rome and was expected to maintain Roman standards of law. But there were good and bad procurators who applied the rules in different ways, and they had considerable leeway. However, they always had to keep one eye open to the fact that complaint could be made about them to Caesar where they went too far.
By the time of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem described here Judaea was a hotbed of violence and insurrection, religious disquiet and extreme dissatisfaction, and continual ferment, which was kept in control by harsh measures on the part of the procurators. Outbursts of religious passion could burst forth at any moment. Judaea (and Galilee) was like a volcano waiting to explode.
The situation just described explains why the procurators, while not willing to give the Sanhedrin its way in respect of Paul without due evidence, were nevertheless hesitant totally to reject their concerns. It was simpler to keep them from getting too upset by keeping Paul in custody and giving the impression that something was being done. But they dared not release him because of the offence that it would cause to the Sanhedrin (and they probably believed, to the people as well). The concerns of one man, while they had to be taken into account, had to be subordinated to political expediency. Thus he was like a hot potato. He must not be dropped, but was painful to hold onto. Rome prided itself on its system of justice, but affairs of state also had to be considered. Add to this Felix’ greed and Festus’ naivete and we understand the background to Paul’s treatment. It saved him from death, and it nearly killed him. But, of course, behind all was God, as Luke continually wants us to understand. And God had His way in the end.
It is easy to get the impression that for Paul these were wasted years. But if we do this is to misunderstand the situation. It is very probable that in the two years in which Paul was held in custody the church in Caesarea had constant access to him, that he fed them and helped them to grow, that he was constantly visited by his companions, prayed with them and taught them, and that he was able to send them to do what he was unable to do. Furthermore during these two years he came before the Sanhedrin, before gatherings of leading Jews, before procurators and kings, and before a gathering of all the notabilities in Caesarea, and had ample opportunity to bring home to them all his essential message. And his behaviour under his trials and sufferings must have given a huge boost, both to the church in Palestine, and to the church around the world. He was kept very busy and yet given a necessary rest at the same time.
But above all he was able to give a testimony to the resurrection which has blessed all ages. Who can forget his vivid descriptions of how he met the risen and glorious Lord Whose commission to him, and to us all, was the foundation of his whole life, and his continual and unfailing testimony to the resurrection when he himself did not know what a day would ring forth.
21.31-32 ‘And as they were seeking to kill him, news came up to the chief captain (chiliarch) of the band, that all Jerusalem was in confusion, and at once he took soldiers and centurions, and ran down on them, and they, when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, left off beating Paul.’
‘As they were seeking to kill him.’ This suggests that their intention was to beat him to death. The idea would be to ‘cleanse’ the temple by the destruction of what had defiled it. Fortunately for Paul, as they began the process of mortal beatings the situation was reported to the chief captain of the auxiliaries on duty in Fortress Antonia next to the Temple. It was Roman practise to have a strong force (an auxiliary cohort of about 1,000 men including a cavalry squadron) there at all seasons when there was likely to be trouble in Jerusalem, for they were only too well aware of how easily the Jews could ‘fly off the handle’. And Pentecost was one of those times. And the court of the Gentiles where Paul now was, was visible from the fortress.
As soon as the chief captain received the report he called on his centurions and their men (there would always be some on duty ‘at the ready’ for exactly such a situation) and running down the steps from the fortress they came down on the crowd. This was a well rehearsed action. It was required only too often. And the moment that the crowd saw the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. None would want to be caught in the act and be seen as personally involved. It could so easily result in a beating for themselves, even if only as witnesses (witnesses were regularly beaten in order to ensure that they told all).
21.33 ‘Then the chief captain came near, and laid hold on him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and enquired who he was, and what he had done.’
Breaking through the crowd, and aware that he might be dealing with a dangerous criminal, the chief captain seized him and then commanded that he be put in ‘two chains’, one for the hands and one for the feet. (Compare the prophecy of Agabus - verse 11). Then he enquired as to who he was and what he had done.
21.34 ‘And some shouted one thing, some another, among the crowd. And when he could not know the certainty for the uproar, he commanded him to be brought into the castle.’
The inexcusable nature of the situation comes out in that most of the crowd quite frankly did not know why they were beating Paul. They had simply been caught up in the general fervour. So some shouted one thing, and some another. Each had different ideas about this man whom they were beating to death, and why they were doing it. We can compare the similar situation with the Ephesus’ crowd in 19.32 where there is a parallel idea. Luke wants it to be quite clear to his readers that those involved in uproars against Paul usually had no good reason for it. At Ephesus it was evil Ephesian Gentiles who had raised the uproar, here it was evil Ephesian Jews. But in neither case were the crowds in agreement with them. The aims of the crowds were baseless. It would appear that Ephesians were adept at causing uproars. (And as we have seen Ephesians represented the Anti-God, the Satan).
Recognising that he was getting no sense from them the chief captain ordered that Paul be brought into the fortress. The first thing to do was to get this dangerous rogue to a place of safety, where he could be examined at more leisure.
21.35-36 ‘And when he came on the stairs, so it was that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the crowd, for the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, “Away with him.” ’
His strategy was necessary. For the incensed crowd, even though we have already learned that they did not know why, continued to cry for his death. They were caught up in blood lust. So the soldiers bore him to the stairs leading into the fortress. These stairs actually led down into the court of the Gentiles. They were for quick access in case of trouble.
‘Away with him (aire auton).’ Compare Luke 23.18, ‘aire touton’ (see also John 19.15). Luke wishes us to identify the two situations. Jerusalem which had rejected its Messiah, has now finally rejected His servant. As far as Luke was concerned it was a final seal on its rejection, evidence of the lesson that he had made clear in chapter 12. They had closed the doors of the Temple on him, now they wanted rid of him totally.
21.37-38 ‘And as Paul was about to be brought into the castle, he says to the chief captain, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek?” Are you not then the Egyptian, who before these days stirred up to sedition and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the Assassins?”
Paul then paused on the steps of the fortress and spoke to the chief captain in articulate and sophisticated Greek. He asked, “May I say something to you?” It was always wise to ask a senior soldier for permission to speak to him. But the chief captain was taken by surprise at his articulate and cultured Greek for he had gained quite another impression of Paul, (we must assume from the crowd. He had asked the crowd who and what he was). That some of the crowd should have said what they did serves to demonstrate how little the majority knew the truth about the man whose death they had been seeking, even the false ‘truth’. They were simply a lynch mob, carried away by excitement and prejudice.
So he asked in surprise, ‘Are you not then the Egyptian, who before these days stirred up to sedition and led out into the wilderness the four thousand men of the Assassins?’ This was presumably what some in the crowds had told him. This character would later be spoken of by Josephus. It was a well known and infamous story. Three years prior to this an Egyptian Jew had claimed to be a prophet and had led a crowd of adherents out into the wilderness (patterning himself on Elijah and John the Baptiser), and then to the Mount of Olives, in order to Messianically attack Jerusalem declaring that the city walls would miraculously fall before him. He and his ‘assassins’ had been beaten off by Felix with much bloodshed, although he had escaped. The assassins (sicarii - ‘dagger men’) were strictly groups of Jews who carried daggers around with them hidden in their clothing so that at any opportunity that arose they could kill collaborators with the Romans, but the term no doubt became applied by the Romans to anyone who sought to slay them and their collaborators. After all they saw all who opposed them violently as little better than assassins.
21.39 ‘But Paul said, “I am a Jew, of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city, and I beg you, give me leave to speak to the people.”
Paul then informed him of who he really was, and did so with the intention of impressing him, for he wanted an opportunity to speak ‘A citizen of no mean city.’ This was an expression of pride in the importance of the city from which he came, and of which he was a respected citizen. Tarsus was famed for its university and its prominence. Thus as a responsible person he asked permission to speak to the crowds. Paul could never turn down an opportunity of proclaiming the Good News (it would be to both the crowds and the arresting soldiers).
21.40 ‘And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, beckoned with the hand to the people, and when there was made a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,’
Recognising Paul’s quality, and deeply intrigued, the chief captain gave his permission. This was clearly no ordinary captive and he was interested to hear what he wanted to say. Perhaps it would also help to establish the truth. And he was not used to captives asking permission to speak to those who had attacked them.
So Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned to the people like an orator. A great hush came on the crowd. As they saw the bruised and bloodied figure, whose death they sought, quite unexpectedly turn to speak to them with the gesture of an orator, they were astounded. It was the last thing that they had expected. We may see this silence as the work of the Holy Spirit active through Paul. Or we may see it as the reaction of a people suddenly taken by surprise by an unexpected turn of events, and stunned to silence. Or indeed as both. We may well see that the sight of Paul and what they had done to him made many of them suddenly stop in their tracks, as the decent ones among them were made to consider what they had done.
22.1 “Brethren and fathers, hear you the defence which I now make to you.”
Paul opened his speech courteously, revealing in the terms of his address the Jewish respect for the elderly, and a claimed relationship with his hearers. He and they were fellow-Jews. The mention of ‘fathers’ suggests that he recognised among the crowd, to their shame, men old in years and possibly even well known figures in authority. He requested that they now hear his defence.
22.2 ‘And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they were the more quiet. And he says,’
When they heard that he was speaking in ‘the Hebrew language’ they maintained their silence. It is debated as to whether ‘The Hebrew language/dialect’ here means that he spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic. In the New Testament ‘Hebrew’ regularly means Aramaic. For example the superscription above Jesus on the cross was said to be in Greek, Latin and ‘Hebrew’ (Luke 23.38). But we can probably say one thing with near certainty, in an Aramaic speaking country Pilate would not have failed to put it in Aramaic. Thus there ‘Hebrew’ means Aramaic. Of course Hebrew lettering and Aramaic lettering are the same so that only one who knew both Hebrew and Aramaic very well would be able to tell the difference by reading it, and to outsiders it was in ‘Hebrew’, that is, the language that the Hebrews use. All Palestinian Jews tended to speak Aramaic. Hebrew was reserved for religious usage. On the other hand it could be argued that if he spoke in Hebrew it would gain special respect and emphasise that he was a true Jew. It would even help to explain why they were ‘the more quiet’.
The basis of his defence is that all through his life to this point he had acted as a true Jew, in obedience to the God of the Jews. We must remember that he is not answering a specific charge, indeed many of the crowd probably did not know what the specific charge was. What he is doing is seek to win the decent Jews onto his side by showing that all that he has done has been reasonable from a Jewish viewpoint. Then they will recognise the folly of all charges against him.
The speech is in the form of a clear chiasmus, as follows:
In ‘a’ we have the stark contrast of the complete Jew, who in the parallel is sent to the Gentiles (salvation is of the Jews - John 4.22 - but is to be made available to all true worshippers - John 4.23-24). In ‘b’ the parallel is clear. In ‘c’ the voice of the Lord speaks to him and he sees the divine light, and in the parallel the voice of the Lord speaks to him and tells him that Jerusalem will remain in darkness, it will not hear him. In ‘d’ he arises so as to enter Damascus and learn what he must do, and in the parallel he must arise and be baptised, and wash away his sins calling on the name of the Lord, which is the first thing he must do. In ‘e’ his eyes are opened that he might see, and in the parallel he must be a witness to what he has seen and heard. In ‘f’ comes the central point of the whole, his call and appointment to know God’s will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear His voice, so that he may be the means of revealing to the world the resurrection and enthronement of Christ Jesus.
This revelation of the resurrection of the dead now takes central place, for having described the appearance of the risen Jesus to Paul in what follows the central part of this section of Acts is built around the proclamation of the hope of the resurrection. It is found in 23.6; 24.15; 26.6-8 (in the introductory analysis ‘h’, ‘l’, and ‘h’). It is then followed by a further description of the risen Jesus to Paul in 26.12-18. So from here to chapter 26 the resurrection from the dead is continually emphasised.
22.3-5 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as you all are this day, and I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest does bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders, from whom also I received letters to the brethren, and journeyed to Damascus to bring them also who were there to Jerusalem in bonds to be punished.”
First he lays down his credentials:
So his credentials as a Jew, and as a zealous Jew, were impeccable. None had been more zealous than he. And his only desire had been to serve God. This alone must prove his genuineness. And then something had happened which had changed the whole course of his life, something which happened while he was on the way to Damascus to arrest and drag back to Jerusalem fleeing Christians.
22.6 “And it came about that, as I made my journey, and drew near to Damascus, about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.”
He described how, as he was making the journey to Damascus around noon, a great light from heaven had shone around him, the light of the Shekinah, the light of God, and yet here as revealed in Jesus Christ. The reference to ‘noon’ (mesembrian) might have been intended to remind the knowledgeable among his hearers of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 28.28-29, ‘The Lord will smite you --- with blindness and with astonishment of heart, and you will grope at noonday (mesembrian) ---.’ The point was thus that he had been smitten, and blinded and filled with astonishment because he had disobeyed the Lord.
22.7 “And I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’.”
And the result was that he had fallen to the ground and had heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ In Paul’s day much was made of the ‘bath qol’, the whisper of a voice from heaven. But he had heard the voice loud and clear. And the voice had asked him why he was persecuting ‘the Lord’. His very repetition of this was a strong hint to his listeners to consider whether they too, by their actions against Paul, were persecuting the Lord.
22.8 “And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting’.”
But he had not been able to see how what he was doing was persecuting God, so he had asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the reply had been that it was Jesus of Nazareth Whom he was persecuting. To persecute His followers was to persecute Him. Whatever else this proved it demonstrated that Jesus was alive and in heaven and approved of by God, for here He spoke from God. It was proclaiming the living, resurrected and enthroned Lord.
It was also a strong hint to the crowd. They too were persecuting Jesus when they should instead be listening to Him and acknowledging His resurrection. It had not been a secret. They too should be saying, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
22.9 “And those who were with me beheld indeed the light, but they did not hear the voice of him who spoke to me.”
Those who were with him had beheld the light. It was not just something internal. They had heard noises (as we are told elsewhere), but they had not understood exactly what was being said. They had not ‘understood the voice’. Compare John 12.28-29. They were like Paul’s listeners, unable to discern, seeing a light, hearing noises, but unresponding.
22.10 “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, and go into Damascus, and there it will be told you concerning all things which are appointed for you to do.’ ”
Deeply humbled he had asked Jesus what He wanted him to do. And he had been told to go into Damascus where he would be told all for which God had appointed him. He wanted his listeners to see that his whole aim had been to be pleasing to God. And his thought was, if only his listeners too would ask, ‘What shall I do Lord?’, they too would receive an answer, and it would involve them in following Jesus.
22.11 “And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me I came into Damascus.”
The vividness of the light had blinded him, and thus he had had to be led by the hand into Damascus. God had rendered him helpless, and as one who was blind waiting to see.
‘The glory of the light (tes doxes tou photos).’ The doxa of the Lord is referred to in Exodus 15.11; 16.7, 10; 24.16, 17; 29.43; 33.19, 22; 40.34, 35 and regularly and speaks of the direct presence of God revealed to His people for their response. Here then Paul too had been approached by His glory and light (compare Isaiah 60.1). The glory which had once descended on the Tabernacle had now descended on Paul.
22.12-13 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight. And in that very hour I looked up on him.’ ”
And then a man had come to him. A devout Jew as measured by the Law (the Torah - the Books of Moses), and well spoken of by all Jews in Damascus. His name was Ananias. And he had stood by him and told him that he would receive his sight, and in that very hour his eyes had been opened and he had been able to see him. So in his need and helplessness the God of Israel had sent one of His true servants to speak to him and enlighten him. From the commencement until now the whole experience had been that of a Jew in close contact with Jews, involved one whose whole aim was to please God, as his whole life evidenced, and one who was enlightened by a pious Jew. The experience was Jewish through and through.
22.14 “And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth.’ ”
And Ananias, this pious and respected godly Jew, had told him that the ‘God of our fathers’, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, had appointed him to know His will, and to see ‘the Righteous One’, the Messiah, and to hear Him speak to him. For ‘the Righteous One’ see on 3.14; 7.52.
This is the central point in the chiasmus and thus central in importance, It declares that God has appointed him for a threefold purpose:
22.15 “For you shall be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard.”
And the reason for this was that he might be a witness for Him to all men of what he had seen and heard, that is of the life, sacrificial death, resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah. There is a hint in his use of ‘all men’ of what is to come. But it could be interpreted here by his listeners as meaning all Jews of every class.
So Paul had been fully dedicated to God from birth, he had been taught by the greatest teacher in the land, he had been humbled by the glory of the Lord, he had heard the voice of the Lord, he had seen the resurrected Lord, he would receive visions in a trance, his experience had been confirmed by a pious and revered Jew, what more evidence did they need? And it had pointed him to the Lord Jesus Christ, to be baptised in His name.
22.16 “And now why do you linger? Arise, and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
He had then been told that he must not delay in being baptised in the name of ‘the Lord Jesus’ (Jesus is ‘the Lord’). This was now the requirement of the Lord for all men, that believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as their risen Lord and Saviour they respond to Him and be baptised as belonging to Him. Literally this is ‘Having arisen be baptised, and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord.’ Note the sentence construction. Each clause has a participle and a main verb. This separates the first statement from the second, so that they can be read as two separate statements indicating two separate, although connected, actions.
This is significant here for nowhere in the New Testament is baptism ever spoken of as washing. Elsewhere baptism, when specifically spoken of, points to the coming down of the Holy Spirit and to rising to new life. Its waters are like the rain that comes from heaven and provides springs and rivers that produce life. If there is a ‘washing’ it is a ‘washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 2.5-6), again depicting the life giving rains. Water represents the water of life, not water of washing. Indeed when a medium for washing is described it is the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5.26) not by baptism. When John the Baptiser spoke his call was to fruitfulness and life, and he constantly used images from nature. He too saw his baptism as pointing to the drenching and lifegiving rain in accordance with the prophets (Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-5; 56.10-13). He gives not a single hint that it has in mind ritual washing. It was the Pharisees who might possibly have interpreted it in that way, and Josephus who did, and even they would not see it as ‘washing from sin’ but as removing ceremonial defilement. But they had misunderstood it.
On the other hand when men are called on to ‘wash away their sins’ in the Old Testament the idea is always of a change of life by turning from sin to right living. ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge rightly on behalf of by the fatherless, plead for the widow’, says Isaiah (Isaiah 1.16-17). This has no direct connection with the image of baptism, indeed its context is a diminishing of all ritual. The point is practical. You ‘wash’ by thrusting away all sin and evil in your life. It is a practical transformation carried out by an act of will followed by acts of will.
The main purpose of water among the Jews in ancient days was in order to be used for drinking and in order to water the ground to make it fruitful. It is true that they did engage in ritual ‘washing’. But when they ritually used water on themselves it was for removing ‘earthiness’ in the presence of God, the removal of odour and all that was unpleasant. (We view things very differently. To us water is on tap and is largely for washing. Most of us own no fields that are dependent on rain. But that was not how the ancients saw it, apart from the Greeks and the wealthier Romans). In the Old Testament ritual washing never cleanses. It is only ever preparatory to cleansing, a removing of earthiness and sweat and odour. It is the passing of time in separation that cleanses spiritually. ‘You shall wash and shall not be clean until the evening’ is a regular refrain. The only water that ‘cleanses’ is water that has been purified with the ashes of a heifer, the water of purification, ‘clean water’, and that cleanses because the blood of the heifer has been shed. On the other hand when the Pharisees poured water over their hands they did not see themselves as ‘washing’. They were removing any taint of ritual uncleanness.
We are wrong therefore when we compare baptism to Old Testament ritual or to ‘washing clean’. More to the point, if baptism was connected with washing, would be David’s words in Psalm 51, ‘wash me and I will be whiter than snow’. But that is in parallel to ‘purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean’ which suggests that it has the water for purification in mind, the water seeped in sacrificial blood. If David was thinking of bathing, it was as a privilege of the rich. Ordinary people did not even think of washing. They did not see themselves as dirty. They saw the rich as fastidious. Yet even so the New Testament never uses this idea of baptism. Indeed Peter declares the opposite. Baptism is not the putting away of the defilement of the flesh, it is the answer of a good conscience towards God (1 Peter 3.21).
So what Ananias was saying here was, ‘arise and be baptised as a sign that you are becoming His, that you are being baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus and thus becoming His man and a recipient of the Holy Spirit, and at the same time turn your life around so that it is totally changed and ‘washed from sin’, and begin to live a new life, ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, that is, acknowledging and worshipping the Lord. Baptism was a baptism ‘unto repentance’. The baptism indicated entry into the age of the Spirit and the forthcoming ‘drenching with the Holy Spirit’, but it was promising a changed life in the future. The change of life was to result and was to be carried into effect, and that was described as ‘washing’ as in Isaiah 1.16-17.
Of course we can argue that Ananias was uniquely signifying that baptism washed from sin. It is one possible interpretation of his words. But if he did so he was the only person in the New Testament who interpreted baptism in this way, and that appears very unlikely. It was the later church that would change the meaning of baptism into this and thereby diminish its significance, for they made it teach what was intrinsically not true, and it resulted in all kinds of queer ideas so that even the most prominent Christians followed them, ideas such as not being baptised until near death because they thought that the physical act would wash away their sins up to that point. That was the inevitable result of such a foolish idea. It had become mere superstition.
The truth is that being baptised does not wash away your sins. Only the blood of Jesus appropriated by faith can do that. If you are a true Christian what baptism does signify (but only if there has previously been an act of true faith in Jesus Christ that has resulted in the baptism, or is at the time) is that the Holy Spirit has come on you, and that you have died and risen with Christ.
Thus the thoughts of the verse are, firstly to arise and be baptised, thus revealing himself as a servant of Jesus Christ as a result of receiving the Holy Spirit, and secondly to turn from sin to righteousness, resulting in true worship of the Lord. ‘Calling on the name of the Lord’ had signified worshipping God truly from as far back as Genesis 4.26. Compare Acts 2.21.
22.17-18 “And it came about, that, when I had returned to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in the temple, I fell into a trance, and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get you quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not receive of your testimony concerning me.’ ”
He then omits all mention of his activities in Damascus and Arabia, and hurries on to the fact that he returned to Jerusalem, to praying in the Temple. He wants them to see that he was a faithful Jerusalemite even then. His experience did not mean that he had ceased to be a Jew, or that he had forsaken the old places and ideas. No, the fact was that it had made him a better Jew. And he had wanted to serve God in Jerusalem. But he was too honest to stop there. Had he done so things might have quietened down a little. But he knew that it would not be long before the question of his activities among the Gentiles again cropped up, so he wanted the true situation to be known. And he also wanted to challenge this crowd about their own view of Jesus. Humanly speaking it may have been a mistake (it depends on what you think he should have been after). But Paul was not in human hands.
So he went on to describe how while he was in the Temple he had fallen into a trance. Like Isaiah of old he had seen the Lord (Isaiah 6). And there he had heard the voice of the Lord. It was the Lord Himself Who had warned him to leave Jerusalem in haste because Jerusalem would not receive his testimony. Just as God had warned Isaiah of old that the people would not hear, so God had warned him that hearing they would not understand, and seeing they would not perceive. But whereas Isaiah had been told to go on preaching to the Jews, and only later learned that the message was also to go out to the Gentiles, it was to be different with Paul. He was to fulfil what Isaiah had looked forward to. He had come to the Jew first, and the Jews had not heard him. So now he was to go to the Gentiles.
As we know at the time when he was preaching in Jerusalem certain Hellenistic Jews were at that time plotting to kill him as they had Stephen (9.29). But he does not mention that. He simply wants them to see that he did not desert Jerusalem in line with his own purposes, or without trying to serve the Jews. He did it because he received a message from the God of Israel in the Temple of the God of Israel as to what he should do. Like Isaiah of old he did what he was told.
We may note that Peter also went to the Gentiles as a result of a trance in which God spoke to him (10.10; 11.5). In both cases they responded to the direct command of God.
22.19-20 “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue those who believed on you, and when the blood of Stephen your witness was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting, and keeping the garments of those who slew him.’ ”
He pointed out that he had not received the message glibly. Indeed he had been unable to believe it, and had protested that all knew that he had persecuted those who had believed in Jesus, and that he had been standing by, consenting, when Stephen was martyred, and had even watched the coats of those who had done it. Surely then they would recognise his genuineness and listen to him? But God had assured him that what He had said was true. Jerusalem would not receive His message.
22.21 “And he said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you forth far hence to the Gentiles.’ ”
He has been trying to impress on them that as a thorough Jew, he had only acted at the command of the God of the Jews all the way through. It had not been his choice. But when he told them what it was that God had next told him to do, his words were like petrol poured on a bonfire, turning a flame into a furnace. He informed them that God had then told him, ‘Depart, for I will send you forth far hence to the Gentiles.’ Now strictly the idea of going to the Gentiles should not have upset them. The Old Testament had already spoken of the light being taken out to the Gentiles by the Jews, and especially by the coming Servant (Isaiah 42.6; 49.6). And all Judaism looked for Gentile converts who would become proselytes, (although few actually sought them). And they actually welcomed into the synagogues questioning God-fearers (although not of course as equals). Furthermore he was pointing out that he had gone to the Jews first, as was always his mission, and it was only when they had turned him away that he had gone to the Gentiles. Thus he could claim to be fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy.
But in the context of his stated rejection by Jerusalem he was to their minds saying that he was going to the Gentiles instead of to Jews, because Jerusalem had rejected him and he no longer had any time for them, and that he was going to the Gentiles as Gentiles, not as those who had sought the Jewish fold. And in the light of the rumours about him this was too much for them. It appeared to confirm their worst fears. They had simply not taken in his argument, or possibly rather had not wanted to.
To Paul it was, of course, all perfectly logical. He probably could not see how they failed to understand it. And it all appeared to him so reasonable. He was a true Jew and had been called by the God of the Jews in a revelation in which had been revealed to him the Shekinah glory. How could he not then, as a true Jew, obey Him? But the problem was that it both threw the blame on them, which they did not like, and that it involved doing what horrified their ‘righteous’ souls, going to the Gentiles direct. That might be all right for the Messiah or The Prophet when He came, but not for people like Paul.
22.22 ‘And they gave him a hearing up to this word, and they lifted up their voice, and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live.” ’
Up to this point they had given him a hearing. Possibly they were waiting for him to condemn himself out of his own mouth. And now they felt that he had. The spell of silence was broken. Putting their own interpretation on his words they cried out, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live.” Again we have the cry ‘away with him’ as in 21.36. This was a period when all Israel, apart from the opportunists were seething with anger under the yoke of Rome. The ideas therefore of favouring Gentiles was totally unacceptable. A few becoming Jewish proselytes, yes, that was acceptable, and even a number of hangers on who knew their place. But giving preference to Gentiles could not be tolerated.
22.23-24 ‘And as they cried out, and threw off their garments, and cast dust into the air, the chief captain commanded him to be brought into the fortress, bidding that he should be examined by scourging, that he might know for why they so shouted against him.’
So they not only cried out but threw off their cloaks, and hurled dust into the air, with the result that the chief captain, fearful of another riot, commanded Paul to be taken immediately inside the fortress. He could not understand what was causing the furore. So he commanded that Paul be examined by scourging.
Scourging was normal with ordinary people who were arrested, whether innocent or not. It was felt that the only way to get the truth out of them was by pain. Here was Paul, already bruised and bloodied from his beatings, and the intention was to rough him up a bit more, simply in order to try to get to the truth. Then if he proved innocent they could let him go. The parallel between Jesus’ treatment after His journey to Jerusalem, and Paul’s, continues, save that Paul is able to avoid the scourging. Scourging was a dreadful ‘punishment’ and would lay bare a man’s back. But possibly the centurion is meaning here something not quite so severe.
‘Cast dust into the air.’ Dust is regularly used symbolically. When the disciples were turned away from a city they were to cast off its dust from them. Possibly what the crowd are saying to Paul here is that Jerusalem rejects him. He can only come under judgment. This confirms Luke’s view that Jerusalem has rejected God by rejecting His servants.
22.25 ‘And when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said to the centurion that stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” ’
But once they had tied him with thongs and Paul realised what their intention was he dropped his bombshell among them. He asked the centurion whether it was lawful to scourge a Roman citizen when he had not yet been found guilty of any crime. Both knew what the answer to that was. Roman law quite clearly forbade such treatment to a Roman citizen.
22.26 ‘And when the centurion heard it, he went to the chief captain and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? for this man is a Roman.” ’
Once the centurion learned this he went immediately to the chief captain and warned him to be careful how he treated Paul because he was a Roman citizen. ‘What are you about to do?’ The blame would fall on the chief captain who had ordered the scourging.
22.27-28 ‘And the chief captain came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” And the chief captain answered, “With a great sum obtained I this citizenship.” And Paul said, “But I am a Roman born.” ’
So the chief captain came and officially put to Paul the question as to whether he was a Roman. To answer untruthfully to that question would be a serious offence. But when Paul replied ‘yes’ he had cause to be afraid. Roman citizens had to be treated with care. Questioningly he said, ‘Such a citizenship cost me a great deal of money’. Paul replied, ‘But I was born a Roman citizen.’ That made clear that he came from a distinguished family, for he was born and bred with citizenship rights.
We know from 23.26 that the name of the chief officer was Claudius Lycias. He had probably therefore bought his freedom when citizenships were being sold off by the favourites of Claudius. Prior to that time citizenships had been more exclusive and given for especially meritorious service. Thus he knew that Paul’s ancestor must have been at the very least a very important official who was seen as loyal to the emperor.
It should be noted that for someone to claim to be a Roman citizen when they were not was a capital crime, and made them subject to summary execution, and as his citizenship could be proved or otherwise from citizenship records it would be foolish for a non-Roman citizen to make such a claim (each citizen was certificated on birth, a certificate which would be kept in the family records, but it may even be that they carried with them a certificate of citizenship. We actually know little about the details).
22.29 ‘Those then who were about to examine him straightway left him alone, and the chief captain also was afraid when he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.’
Once the chief captain had learned this, Paul was unbound and ‘left alone’. And the chief captain was afraid because he knew that he could be punished for even having bound him ready for scourging. As a Roman citizen Paul was then probably given a limited freedom within the fortress.
Paul Appears Before the Sanhedrin (22.30-23.9). The Lord Assures Him That As He Has Testified in Jerusalem So Will He Testify in Rome (23.10-11).
The chief officer did not know quite what to do with Paul. He was not even quite sure of what the accusation against him was. At first it had been quite clear. He was an Egyptian insurgent, he was a blasphemer, he had taken Greeks into the inner temple, he was all that was bad (or so he had been told). Now having listened to Paul he was not so sure. He had also probably been visited by Jewish leaders who had wanted him to hand him over to them. This was presumably why he as a mere chief captain was able to ‘command’ the appearance of the Sanhedrin. If they wanted him they must justify their request, for Paul was a Roman citizen.
Having described the appearance of the risen Jesus in chapter 22 Paul will now continually proclaim the hope of the resurrection. The word of God is not bound. This proclamation is found in 23.6; 24.15; 26.6-8 (in the introductory analysis in ‘h’, ‘l’, and ‘h’). It will then be followed by a further description of the risen Jesus to Paul (26.12-18). So his period of detention from his arrest in Jerusalem to his commencement of his journey to Rome is one long proclamation of the resurrection from the dead which is everywhere emphasised.
22.30 ‘But on the morrow, desiring to know the certainty of what he was accused of by the Jews, he loosed him, and commanded the chief priests and all the council to come together, and brought Paul down and set him before them.’
So on the next day, wanting to know exactly what charges were being laid against Paul, he gave Paul his freedom within the fortress and commanded the Sanhedrin if they wished to justify Paul being handed over to them to gather to discuss the matter and formulate their charges. Then he brought Paul out and set him before the Council.
This chief captain was an object lesson to the Jews. He alone (although he did not know it) was obeying the Law, ‘;-- then you shall enquire, and make search, and ask diligently ---’ (Deuteronomy 13.14). That is what the Jews should have done. It took a Roman to hold them to it.
We note that this was at least the sixth time that the Sanhedrin had been called on to evaluate the claims of Christ. The first occasion was when the official Sanhedrin had met to consider reports about Jesus (John 11.47-53); the second was during Jesus' series of ‘trials’ (Matthew 27.1-2; Mark 15.1; Luke 22.66-71); the third was for the trial of Peter and John (4.5-22); the fourth was for the trial of the Twelve (5.21-40), and the fifth was for Stephen's trial (6.12-7.60). They had had plenty of time to come to a firm and reasonable decision about him. But they had not. They were still divided.
23.1 ‘And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council, said, “Men, brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day.”
Paul began his defence fearlessly and immediately by declaring that he lived before God, and that he sought to do it with a good conscience. Compare here 24.16; 1 Timothy 1.5, 19; 1 Peter 3.16, 21. He wanted the court to know immediately that he was a man who treated his conscience seriously and lived in accordance with it. And that as a Pharisee he had no grounds for thinking that he had failed in his obligations (see Philippians 3.7-9). However, somehow this caused offence. Possibly his method of address was not considered deferential enough, or possibly it was because he was considered to have commenced his defence too precipitately. The council may have felt that he was too forward and should wait to be asked. Either of these would partly explain (but not excuse) the next action.
23.2 ‘And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to smite him on the mouth.’
The chairman of the council, the High Priest Ananias, then commanded that he be smitten on the mouth. This was possibly a preemptory reminder of who was in charge. A modern judge would have sternly told him that he must wait until he was called on. Or it may have been in order to suggest that he was not treating the aristocracy with sufficient deference. Normally they would be addressed as, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel." Or perhaps it was just in order to indicate that he must not be so arrogant in front of his betters. Ananias was himself an arrogant man and full of his own self-importance, and by this demonstrated his arrogance and unfitness to be presiding. But prisoners, whether guilty or not, were often treated contemptuously by courts, and we have here another example of the way in which Paul was seen as ‘following in His steps’, for Jesus had been treated in a similar way (compare John 18.22). It is the way the Master went, shall not the servant read it still?
23.3 ‘Then said Paul to him, “God will smite you, you whited wall. And do you sit to judge me according to the law, and command me to be smitten contrary to the law?” ’
But Paul knew his Law. And he knew that the Law did not allow such treatment to one who was on trial (e.g. Leviticus 19.15). So he retaliated verbally with a returning insult (and afterwards admitted that he should not have done so, however justified it might have seemed). He warned the High Priest that he would be answerable to God for his action. A ‘whited wall’ is one that has been painted to hide its imperfections so that it can pretend to be what it is not (compare Ezekiel 13.10-11, 14; Matthew 23.27) and was liable to be exposed by judgment (Ezekiel 13.10-11, 14). He was saying that the judge was a hypocrite and would himself face judgment for it. Like Peter, Paul could be a bit precipitate (compare Galatians 3.1; 5.12; Philippians 3.2 and contrast 1 Corinthians 4.12 - Barnabas would never have done it. But then he would never have achieved what Paul did).
He was quite rightly pointing out that the judge also came under the eye of the divine judge. But he should have remembered that he was speaking not only to the High Priest but to the whole court, although in fact his words were an unconscious prophecy (or an effective curse) for Ananias was murdered by terrorists at the beginning of the Jewish war.
23.4 ‘And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” ’
Immediately people present were shocked and asked him if he thought it right to revile God’s High Priest. They could not believe their ears. It was not a question of whether they approved of what the High Priest had said. It was because to revile God’s representative was to be seen as reviling God (Exodus 22.28).
23.5 ‘And Paul said, “I did not know , brethren, that he was high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people’.” ’
Paul immediately admitted his fault. He informed them that he had not known that this man was the High Priest, otherwise he would not have done it. Perhaps there is also here the strong hint that if the man had behaved more like a High Priest he might have the better recognised him. Nevertheless the Scriptures enjoined the giving of proper respect to the leaders of the people when in office (Exodus 22.28), therefore he regretted it however deserved it might have been. In a similar way today we speak of ‘contempt of court’. We may hold the judge in contempt, but when he is officiating he represents the Law, and must therefore be treated with the respect due to his position, even if not for himself.
We must remember here that Paul had been away from Jerusalem for many years, apart from brief visits. He was not therefore familiar with the current High Priest. And at this ad hoc meeting the High Priest may well not have been robed. Indeed the fact that Paul had begun ‘men, brethren’ does suggest that he had not recognised among those met together any particularly high level officials, for he usually uses the correct address. Although it might be that had he been seen as a respected Pharisee such an address would not have been seen as coming amiss.
This Ananias was an altogether unpleasant person and was in fact noted for his greed and arrogance. Josephus called him ‘the great procurer of money’, partly because of his unscrupulous use of the trading in the Temple for gain, and partly because he was ruthlessly violent in extracting money from people, for example, in using beatings to extort tithes from the common priests' allotment and leaving them destitute. He was an extremely wealthy man and was not above using bribes and violence in order to increase his wealth and obtain what he wanted. Thus his treatment of Paul here was quite in character.
23.6 ‘But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees, touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” ’
We are not told the details of the proceedings that followed this rather inauspicious opening. Some discussion clearly took place and it would seem that no one was quite sure what he was guilty of and it seems probable, in view of what follows, that the Sadducees began to harp on about his claim that ‘angels’ had spoken to him and refer to his talk about Jesus having risen from the dead. Both these ideas would be totally unacceptable to them, but they were not sufficient to condemn a man for. No alternative charge of any weight appears to have been put forward. The whole situation seems to have been remarkably vague.
So we need not assume that what is said in this verse happened immediately. Indeed it actually probably arose from things that were being said, which were being allowed to pass unnoticed simply because the Pharisees were too busy disdaining Paul and not sufficiently busy in following what was being said. But Paul’s astute mind recognised only too well the true significance behind some of the things being said by the Sadducean opposition, things which the Pharisees were allowing to slip by because their minds were on Paul as someone worthy to be condemned.
Thus when he surveyed the Council and recognised there a number who would in fact agree with his main proposition, the resurrection from the dead, and should have been supporting him more vociferously in his claim that angels spoke to men, that is, if they had been properly following what lay behind what was being said, he decided to draw their attention to this fact.
We must not see this as just a ploy. Paul, who saw these proceedings as having become weighed down by inessentials, was genuinely concerned to establish the truth of the resurrection, and of ‘heavenly beings’ speaking to men, and of his defence of them, especially in the eyes of Claudius Lysias. That was after all what his testimony had been all about. And he would thus want the trial to follow that course. He certainly did not want to finish up condemned on false grounds simply because of the prejudice of the Sadducees reacting against his Pharisaic beliefs. If he was to be condemned let it be for something worth while, something that will enable Claudias Lysias to recognise that what he is being charged with is simply a subject on which the Jews themselves were in dispute. For the trial to become a dispute about Jewish teaching would strongly aid his case.
Furthermore, once the subject of the trial altered and became fixed on the resurrection he would then be able to remind them that Jesus had risen from the dead. That was what he really wanted men’s thoughts to be concentrated on, and the arguments to be about.
So he points out that what he is really being condemned for is something that is dearly held by a number of them, the hope of the resurrection. For every genuine Pharisee lived his life with only one final aim in view, that he might attain eternal life and the resurrection from the dead.
‘I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees, touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question’ he declares. Let all now recognise what is central in his thinking, the resurrection from the dead. This is what his ministry is all about, life from the dead. From this point on this subject of the ‘hope of the resurrection’ becomes a theme in Acts, appearing again in 24.15; 26.6-8, and being sandwiched between two descriptions of the appearance of the risen Jesus. His trial as it is being conducted here, he points out, should have nothing to do with the trumped up charges that have been previously brought. It is the basic teaching about angels and the resurrection and the afterlife and how they are viewed and whether they are accepted that is the important question. That is the real reason why the High Priest and his set are so strongly against him, and want to condemn him, because of the Sadducean prejudice against the resurrection and against angels, and the Pharisees among them do not seem to be noticing it. Paul felt that it was time that the Pharisees supported him on this.
Some have referred the reference to ‘the hope’ as meaning the hope of the Messiah, which was also held by the Pharisees, to be held along with that of the resurrection. However, 24.15 suggests that ‘the hope’ is of the resurrection of all men, both the just and the unjust. On the other hand 26.6-8 might be seen as confirming that the hope in mind is the hope of both the Messiah and the resurrection. This would also tie in with 17.18, ‘Jesus and the resurrection’.
23.7-8 ‘And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided, for the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees confess both.’
This immediately made the Pharisees wake up and concentrate on the case, and they then began to take up certain points that they had previously let slip by, recognising the truth in what Paul had drawn their attention to. They may have been sceptical about angels speaking to Paul but they were not sceptical about angels in general. They believed firmly in them. So they now argued that it was not reasonable to dismiss his claims simply on the grounds that angels did not exist. Perhaps angels had spoken to Paul. Who could tell?
This then led to dissension between the two sides as they argued the possibility of angels speaking at all, and whether the resurrection could occur. After all, Paul’s defence, assuming that it was anything like that before the crowds, had included references to angels, and to the resurrection (note 22.9-11 where this is made clear). So the truth or not of these questions was not a side issue, it was important. His case was bound to be dismissed by the Sadducees, who considered such things ridiculous, but surely it should not be viewed like that by the Pharisees? Surely they should give it more careful consideration.
23.9 ‘And there arose a great clamour, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ part stood up, and strove, saying, “We find no evil in this man. And what if a spirit has spoken to him, or an angel?” ’
The result was that instead of universal condemnation Paul now suddenly found that he had some powerful supporters. Some of the Rabbis, recognising that the truth of what they themselves believed in was at stake here, and was being arrogantly dismissed, now declared that his words about spirits and angels could not just be trivialised. That indeed he may be right. Perhaps an angel or spirit had spoken to him, for such beings did exist. This would certainly strengthen the case that he had put before the crowds and the chief captain.
“And what if a spirit has spoken to him, or an angel?” This strictly reads, ‘And if a spirit has spoken to him or an angel ---?’ leaving the question in the air.
23.10 ‘And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him to the fortress.’
Indeed feelings now began to rise so high (and we really cannot blame Paul because they could not discuss reasonably together) that the chief captain who was observing the proceedings became alarmed and commanded that soldiers take him by force (the temple police may have tried to interfere) and convey him to the safety of the fortress.
He must have been in some despair. Here he was stuck with this prisoner, who was a Roman citizen and therefore difficult to deal with, and it was apparent that none of his opponents knew what to charge him with. He was having to hold him without charge and risk any consequences.
23.11 ‘And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, “Be of good cheer, for as you have testified concerning me at Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also at Rome.” ’
In fact there was apparently only One person who was satisfied with the way that things were going, and that night the risen Lord stood by Paul, presumably visually, and encouraged him (compare 18.9-10; 22.17-21). He told him to be in good heart, for it was God’s purpose that just as he had testified openly about Him in Jerusalem, so he would testify in Rome. He was not to see what was happening as a setback, but as an opportunity. God was in control.
At first sight it might appear to us that Paul’s being in captivity was a hindrance to the spread of the Good News. Think what he could do if he was free, we might say. But we need to recognise that that might not have been so. Paul was now such a marked man, and so intensely hated by many Jews in many cities, that wherever he went his life was in danger. So much so that some followed him around with the aim of killing him. And what was more this then not only meant that his own life was in danger, but that it would also cause problems for his companions and for the churches. He had after all, already been responsible for a number of ‘uprisings’ in a number of cities, which could always flare up once he visited them again. And now that he was such a marked man it would not be easy for him to slip in and out unnoticed. This being so his being directly under the protection of Roman soldiers, with his companions able to visit him freely, gave him the opportunity to think through problems and enabled him to run a kind of Bible School and Correspondence course in complete safety, and at the same time brought great encouragement to the church because they saw how bravely he faced his trial. They would not want to let him down. And it would even support his doctrine. For his doctrine was being substantiated by his life. There is no one who is believed quite as much as a martyr.
The Jews Plan An Ambush With The Purpose of Slaying Paul, Which Is Thwarted by Paul’s Nephew and the Divine Hand (23.12-24).
We discover here how the hatred that has followed Paul around at the hands of the Jews is continuing to grow. It had begun with the Jews of Asia, and continued with the stirred up crowd. Although the last, left to itself, would soon die down. But there was a core of fanatical Jews in whom the hatred continued and grew. With them it would not die down, and it is of them that we now learn. And gradually that hatred will grow through the controversies of the Sanhedrin, while the High Priest probably never forgave him for publicly calling him a whited wall and reminding him of the judgment he faced. And soon the majority of the Sanhedrin will become determined to seek his death. He has become a focal point and they are beginning to believe their own propaganda. And they do so unceasingly until he disappears in a ship towards Rome. Jerusalem has truly rejected both the servant and his Master, and is rejected in turn by Him.
Here then the hatred of many Jews against Paul is revealed by another determined plot to kill him. By now he was notorious and it is questionable how safe his life could ever be again. Humanly speaking only the Roman guards and the fortress kept him safe from death. As it was with Jesus when He was in Jerusalem, so it is with Paul. Plans were being made by the Jews to kill him.
23.12 ‘And when it was day, the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.’
Indeed these Jews were so determined to kill Paul that they bound themselves under a curse to do so. They swore that they would neither eat nor drink until they had achieved their purpose. We are not told whether the Asian Jews were involved, but it must seem possible. It was not, however, only them. These men clearly expected to achieve their aim quickly and if they failed would abandon the curse on the grounds of impossibility of accomplishment, a useful Rabbinic let-out. But the curse was real nevertheless. In their own eyes they knew that they would lose face before God and men by its failure.
23.13 ‘And they were more than forty that made this conspiracy.’
The size of the conspiracy comes out in that ‘forty’ men were involved. Such a number would be needed in order to keep the attention of the Roman guards who might be expected to escort the prisoner, while the assassination was taking place. And the assassination had to take place in the short time before Paul reached the Sanhedrin. Forty is regularly a number connected with judgment and trial (forty days of rain at the Flood, forty days of Goliath calling on Israel to fight him in the confidence that they would not, forty days of Elijah in the wilderness), and with the giving of the Law (forty days in the mount twice over, without food and drink). Perhaps they (or Luke) saw it as symbolic of their aim, to avenge the breaking of the Law.
23.14-15 ‘And they came to the chief priests and the elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great curse, to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. Now therefore do you, with the council, signify to the chief captain that he bring him down to you, as though you would judge of his case more exactly, and we, before he comes near, are ready to slay him.” ’
All they needed now was the opportunity. So they went to the chief priests and elders (they avoided the Pharisees) and informed them of their plans. They pointed out that they had put themselves under a curse not to taste anything until Paul was dead. Would the council now ask that Paul be brought before them as before so as to get him out of the fortress. Then as soon as he was out they would attack the guards, fall on him and slay him. The Romans would not be anticipating any such attack in the short journey between the fortress and the Sanhedrin’s meeting place by the Temple. And to the disgrace of the Sanhedrin it agreed.
23.16 ‘But Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, and he came and entered into the fortress and told Paul.’
However, God was aware of the plan and ensured that news of the plot reached the ears of Paul’s nephew. Possibly Paul’s sister, as a well-dowried woman, was married to a member of the Sanhedrin, or to a member of the High Priest’s family, or someone closely connected, so that her son overheard discussions taking place at home. Whichever way it was he came to the fortress and informed Paul. Paul would have a certain freedom to enjoy visitors.
23.17 ‘And Paul called to him one of the centurions, and said, “Bring this young man to the chief captain, for he has something to tell him.’
Paul then immediately called one of the centurions to him and asked him to take the boy to the chief captain, as he had some important information to impart. As a Roman citizen his request would be received with respect. They would not want to offend him.
23.18 ‘So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and says, “Paul the prisoner called me to him, and asked me to bring this young man to you, who has something to say to you.” ’
So the centurion took Paul’s nephew to the chief captain, and told him how Paul had called him and had requested that the lad be brought as he had important information.
23.19 ‘And the chief captain took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” ’
The chief captain then took the lad’s hand (he was clearly a sympathetic man) and led him aside and asked privately what it was he wanted to tell him.
23.20-21 ‘And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the council, as though you would enquire somewhat more exactly concerning him. Do not therefore yield to them, for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, who have bound themselves under a curse, neither to eat nor to drink till they have slain him, and now are they ready, looking for the promise from you.” ’
Then the lad explained what he had overheard. On the next day the Jews would pretend that they wanted to question Paul, but really it was simply a ruse in order to get Paul out of the fortress. Once he left the fortress they would attack the guards and kill him. All they were now waiting for was the chief captain’s promise that Paul would be forthcoming. No doubt the chief captain questioned the lad about the source of his information, and was satisfied. He would know that the High Priest Ananias was quite likely to be involved in such a plot. It was typical of his methods.
23.22 ‘So the chief captain let the young man go, charging him, “Tell no man that you have signified these things to me.” ’
So the chief captain let the lad go and told him to tell no one what he knew, or that he had told it to the chief captain. His main concern here was probably with the lad’s safety.
23.23 ‘And he called to him two of the centurions, and said, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to go as far as Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and two hundred spearmen (or packhorses), at the third hour of the night, and he bade them provide beasts, that they might set Paul on them, and bring him safe to Felix the governor.” ’
Then he called two centurions and told them to take a largish force and escort Paul to Caesarea, to the procurator Felix in the procurator’s palace. This force was to be comprise of two hundred soldiers, seventy cavalry and two hundred ‘dexialabous’ or (in A) ‘dexiabolous’ (we do not know the meaning of the first word. Possibly it signifies light-armed soldiers, or right handed bowmen or spearmen or slingers, or even pack horses so as to give the impression that the expedition had another purpose. Dexiabolous probably indicates right-handed slingers). This would deprive the fortress of a good proportion of its force for a short while, but the chief captain could not be sure how many men they might have to deal with if anything was suspected and they were waylaid. He was quite well aware of the excited state of the populace, which was continually in a state of ferment at this time, which could easily be roused to assist any attempt on a small force. He may, however, have also taken the opportunity of fulfilling another errand, hence the packhorses, and simply have brought that aim forward. Paul was also to be provided with a horse, and one for his luggage. They left at 21.00 hours that evening. Hopefully no one would suspect the reason for the departure. There was no reason why they should.
Paul In The Hands of The ‘Most Excellent’ Felix (23.25-35).
The ‘most excellent’ Felix, to whom Paul was being taken, was a freedman who had been appointed as procurator, a most unusual situation. Procurators were usually of equestrian rank. His appointment was an act of favouritism to his brother and he proved to be what he was, and by his behaviour in Palestine increased the hatred of Rome. Tacitus says of him that ‘practising every kind of cruelty and lust he wielded royal power with the instinct of a slave’ (which of course he had been). His method of exacting his will was by violence and crucifixions. He married three times, and each time into royalty. His first wife was the granddaughter of Anthony and Cleopatra, his present and third wife was Drusilla, a very beautiful Jewess and daughter of Agrippa I. She had been married when young to Azizus, king of Emesa, a petty Syrian king, but Felix saw her shortly after her wedding, desired her, and through the services of a magician from Cyprus prevailed on her to desert her husband and marry him in defiance of the Law which both forbade such behaviour and forbade her marriage to a pagan. This was typical of the man. Tacitus says, ‘he believed that he could commit all kinds of enormities with impunity’. He was not very reliable.
Under his procuratorship hostility against Rome increased enormously, resulting in the expansion of the influence of the zealots, and he then reacted viciously against them by hunting them down remorselessly and dealing with them with extreme cruelty. This simply produced a further reaction which resulted in general hatred and contempt and a huge increase in the number of ‘assassins’ (sicarii), men who mingled in crowds with hidden daggers and secretly murdered collaborators, until no one in Jerusalem with political connections could feel safe.
His behaviour also resulted in the incident of the Egyptian mentioned previously in 21.38, who was in fact but one of a number who around this time led groups into the wilderness so as to receive the ‘omens of freedom’ and seek to establish the kingdom of God, only to face a vengeful and bloodthirsty Felix with his soldiers. We are told that after the defeat of the Egyptian more and more fanatics arose and ‘incited many to revolt, exhorting them to exert their independence and threatening to kill any who submitted willingly to Roman domination, and to suppress all those who would voluntarily accept servitude. Deploying in gangs throughout the country they looted the houses of the nobles and killed their owners and set villages on fire, so that all Judaea felt the effects of their frenzy’ (Josephus). Thus around this time the country was in turmoil, a turmoil which would never in fact finally cease until it resulted in the Roman invasion and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. This uneasy situation further explains the large escort.
In fact during the period when Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea a dispute arose between the Jewish and Syrian inhabitants there over equality of citizenship The Jews claimed precedence because Herod the Great had founded the city. The Syrians on the other hand were understandably reluctant to give way and claimed that the city had always been intended to be a Gentile city. Thus for a time there was a good deal of street fighting between the two parties. At one stage when the Jews had gained the upper hand Felix stepped in and using his soldiers, quelled them by force, handing over their houses to be plundered by the soldiers, something that would inevitably produce a complaint against him. When the rioting continued he sent leading men of both groups to Rome for Nero to decide the issue. But the Jews had complained to the emperor about his behaviour and before the matter was settled Felix was recalled, and recognising that the Jews might press their complaint about his behaviour tried to pacify them by leaving Paul in prison, hoping it would help his case with them. In the end he only escaped severe punishment because of his brother’s influence.
However, in the same way as the tyrant Herod Antipas feared John the Baptiser, so Felix appears to have feared Paul. Nevertheless he still kept him in prison when he could have released him, and this because he was hoping that Paul would be willing to pay him a large bribe. He was the worst type of Roman governor.
23.25 ‘And he wrote a letter after this form:’
The chief captain sent with the force that was taking Paul a letter to Felix. ‘After this form’ may suggest that Luke was not sure of the contents, but hazarded a reconstruction based on information received. On the other hand it may have been read out in the court with Luke present. The wording confirms, however, that he knew something of its contents, as the white lie about the chief captain’s knowledge that Paul was a Roman before he rescued him reveals. Luke would not have made that up. The chief captain wanted some kudos for himself.
23.26 ‘ Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor Felix, greeting.’
This is a standard opening form giving name of sender, name of recipient and a greeting. Lysias would be his given name. Claudius would be added when he became a Roman citizen during the reign of Claudius. ‘Most excellent’ is a normal way of addressing a high official.
23.27 “This man was seized by the Jews, and was about to be slain by them, when I came on them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman.”
He explains the circumstances of Paul’s rescue, and suggests that he did it because he knew that Paul was a Roman citizen. This was presumably in order to gain himself some credit. We note that he leaves out any details that could have sounded unfavourable. He wanted to avert any blame that might be directed at him.
23.28-29 “And desiring to know the cause for which they accused him, I brought him down to their council, whom I found to be accused about questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.”
He explains how he was at pains to examine him, even bringing him before their Sanhedrin, but as a result discovered that it simply concerned questions of interpretation of Jewish teaching and that Paul had not been accused of anything which deserved death or bonds. Once again the Paul’s innocence is emphasised.
23.30 “And when it was shown to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you forthwith, charging his accusers also to speak against him before you.”
Then someone had shown him that there was to be a plot against Paul, which is why he has sent him to Felix, also informing his accusers that they too must go to Felix to lay their charges.
The chief captain had no rights of judgment. Thus as he was uncertain as to whether any blame could lie at Paul’s door, he had sent him to the one who was responsible for judgment, with an explanation of the facts as he knew them.
23.31 ‘So the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.’
So that night the contingent of soldiers left as commanded and arrived at Antipatris, roughly just past half way to Caesarea. The journey from there would be through less dangerous territory.
23.32-33 ‘But on the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the fortress, and they, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, presented Paul also before him.’
From that point on the full escort was seen as no longer needed and the cavalrymen carried on with Paul, while the infantry returned to the fortress. Once the cavalry reached Caesarea they handed over the letter, and Paul as well.
23.34-35 ‘And when he had read it, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia, he said, “I will hear you fully when your accusers also are come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s palace.’
Felix then had Paul brought in and asked him what province he came from. Had he named the province of a local king he would have sent him to him. But once he learned that he was from Cilicia he recognised that he must deal with it himself. Syria and Cilicia were under the same legate and he was his deputy. So he informed Paul that he would hear the case as soon as his accusers arrived. Then he gave orders that he be detained in Herod’s palace, his own headquarters. Paul was being given due respect as a Roman citizen.
24.1 ‘And after five days the high priest Ananias came down with certain elders, and with an orator, one Tertullus, and they informed the governor against Paul.’
The importance attached to Paul comes out in that the High Priest came in person together with some leading elders and with a trained advocate in order to charge Paul. And there they laid the case against him. ‘After five days.’ See verse 11. This will be calculated from when the trouble first began. Note that Luke is able to give the name of the advocate.
After arriving in Jerusalem Paul had met with the church, immediately spent a few days of purifying, and had five days earlier been initially arrested by the Romans, making ‘twelve days’ in all.
24.2-3 ‘And when he was called, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, “Seeing that by you we enjoy much peace, and that by the providence evils are corrected for this nation, we accept it in all ways and in all places, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.” ’
It may be that the arrogant High Priest, who may well have despised Felix, thought that by using Tertullus he could impress him by the use of a professional, and blind him with science so that he would yield the case rather than look foolish. But he was to learn that Felix, while a rogue, was no fool.
The case presented by Tertullus is so clearly artificial and flattering that it is obviously the work of a trained advocate who is seeking to win over the judge and present the best case, and Felix would have recognised this. He was a brutal man and it is doubtful if flatteries would impress him. He knew quite well what the people thought about him, and he knew Ananias the High Priest. They were two of a kind, this high-bred Jew and this bumped up ex-slave.
First we have the flattery, which is aimed at winning over the judge. To hear it you would have thought that Palestine was enjoying unprecedented peace, instead of being ever on the brink of violence and in a ferment of hatred, with Felix one of the most unpopular procurators to date.
‘We enjoy much peace.’ Palestine had never been a more dangerous place except at time of war, although it is true that Felix did seek to exterminate what he saw as brigands. But they were often religious enthusiasts, and while the High Priest would have had as little patience with them as he had, many of the people saw a number of them as patriots.
‘By the providence.’ A carefully chosen word which can fit in with whatever Felix believes. Possibly Roma or whichever god Felix happened to believe in. Or perhaps Felix’s own providence. Whichever way it is, Palestine are lucky to have such a ruler!
‘Evils are corrected for this nation, we accept it in all ways and in all places, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.” ’ He is sure that Felix, who is so adept at correcting all evils in the nation, and to whom they are all so grateful, will now also deal with the one he is about to describe.
24.4 “But, that I be not further tedious to you, I entreat you to hear us of your clemency a few words.”
He then assures Felix that his case will not take too long (we probably only have the gist of it) for he does not want to bore him. But he hopes that nevertheless he will listen to him patiently as he will only be saying ‘a few words’. (Felix probably knew from this that he was in for a long, boring peroration).
24.5 “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of insurrections among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, who moreover attempted to profane the temple. On whom also we laid hold.”
He then paints the blackest possible picture of Paul. He is the worst kind of man, a deliberate troublemaker, a scourge of the Empire, an international insurgent, whose aim is to destabilise the world, and he is the ringleader of the strange sect called the Nazarenes, whom everyone knows are themselves simply troublemakers. And what is more in the course of all this he has also sought to profane the Jewish Temple. He is thus worthy of death three times over! Nevertheless, let the procurator note, fierce fellow that he was, they had managed to lay hold of him.
24.7-8 “From whom you will be able, by examining him yourself, to take knowledge of all these things of which we accuse him.”
And Felix will only have to examine him in the right way in order to discover that all this is true. If he failed, all would know whose fault it was.
24.9 ‘And the Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that these things were so.’
Then the words of Tertullus were backed up by ‘the Jews’, that is the Jewish party who had come with him. They too assured Felix that these things were so. So there was a goodly audience, and an important one, to hear Paul’s defence.
24.10a ‘And when the governor had beckoned to him to speak, Paul answered,’
The governor then turned to Paul and beckoned him to speak and give his defence.
24.10b-12 “Forasmuch as I know that you have been of many years a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defence, seeing that you can take knowledge that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship at Jerusalem, and neither in the temple did they find me disputing with any man or stirring up a crowd, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city.”
Paul too recognises the need to win the judges confidence. So he states how gladly he makes his defence in front of such an experienced and knowledgeable judge. ‘Many years.’ Prior to being procurator Felix had been an administrator in the area.
Then he informs him that he can soon if he wishes discover the facts, and that is that Paul had come to Jerusalem in order to worship God and had only been in Jerusalem twelve days, and that he had done no disputing or ‘rousing up’ in either the Temple, or the synagogues, or the city. So the claims were simply untrue. And it would not take long to make enquiries and prove it.
24.13 “Nor can they prove to you the things of which they now accuse me.”
Nor could his accusers bring any proof that the things which they accused him of were true. It was a case of words without evidence. Not a single genuine witness had been produced. Their case was all generalities and accusations, an short on facts.
24.14-15 “But this I confess to you, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers, believing all things which are according to the law, and which are written in the prophets, having hope toward God, which these also themselves look for, that there will be a resurrection both of the just and unjust.”
However, one thing he would admit to and that was that he belonged to ‘the Way’, which they scornfully called a sect. But this did not make him a bad Jew for in ‘the Way’ he served the God of his fathers believing all that was according to the Law of Moses and what was written in the prophets. So really they were not a sect at all. And as a result of his belief he had ‘hope towards God’, a hope similar to his accusers as a whole (the Jews, though not the Sadducees), that there will be a resurrection of the just and unjust (see Isaiah 26.19; Daniel 12.2; Ezekiel 37.12; John 5.29).
Once again he makes clear that any real disagreement is about what they taught, especially the doctrine of the resurrection, and seeks to win to his side those of the opponents who believe in the resurrection. For Luke, with his readers in mind, this continual reference to the resurrection is important. It is central to the Christian message. Paul is here precisely because of the truth of the resurrection.
24.16 “In this I also exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men always.”
‘This’ either refers to ‘the Way’, or signifies a general ‘all this I am talking about’. Either way it is because of these things that he behaves according to his conscience, seeking to have a conscience void of offence towards God and men. That being so the claims of his opponents are ridiculous. This also emphasises that being a member of ‘the Way’ results in men living conscience controlled lives.
24.17-18a “Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings, among which they found me purified in the temple, with no crowd, nor yet with tumult.”
And what had brought him to Jerusalem? Why, he had come bringing charitable gifts to his nation, and offerings, which is why he was found in the Temple with his offerings, having gone through a process of purification, with no crowd with him and no tumult being caused. Does this sound like someone who wished to profane the Temple? All this could be verified from any who were present.
‘To my nation.’ He saw the church as the true nation of Israel (Matthew 21.43). But there was probably no restriction put on the gift and the Christians would hardly have withheld help from needy fellow-Jews.
24.18b-19 “But there were certain Jews from Asia, who ought to have been here before you, and to make accusation, if they had anything against me.”
In fact the source of the accusations against him were certain Jews from Asia. It was they who, as his original accusers, should have been there if they really had anything to accuse him of (that was the law). But they were not there. The whole case was trumped up.
Roman law in fact imposed heavy penalties on accusers who abandoned their charges (destitutio), thus their absence suggested that they recognised that they had nothing against him that would stand up in a Roman court of law
24.20 “Or else let these men themselves declare what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, ‘Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day.’ ”
And if these men had found any wrongdoing in him when he stood before the Sanhedrin, let them now declare what it was. Indeed the only matter that had really been discussed in the council about which they could accuse him as being in the wrong was the question of the resurrection. For he himself had stated before the council, ‘Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day.’ This was the only ‘wrongdoing’ of which he could be accused. So all their accusations were generalisations and falsehoods.
Some consider that Paul is here admitting that he should not have made that statement which had put the council in an uproar. But it is equally likely that he is simply saying sarcastically that this was the only thing that they could accuse him of, something which was, of course, not criminal at all, and of course was true.
24.22 ‘But Felix, having more exact knowledge concerning the Way, deferred them, saying, “When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will determine your matter.”
Having listened to all this, and having more exact knowledge about the Way, (so that he knew that some of the accusations were lies), Felix decided that he did not have enough to go on and deferred a decision declaring that he would wait for Lysias the chief captain to come to Caesarea. Then he would pass his verdict. This may well have been because he was afraid that if he released Paul this might produce even worse enemies than he had already. His knowledge of the Way might have included knowing that sometimes rows did break out because of it. But it would seem that he really had no intention of bring Lysias to Caesarea (otherwise he could have been there within a couple of days or so).
24.23 ‘And he gave order to the centurion that he should be kept in charge, and should have indulgence, and not to forbid any of his friends to minister to him.’
So he gave orders to the centurion that Paul should be held in charge, but with a great deal of indulgence given to him so that there should be no limit on his friends ‘ministering to him’. It was normal for prisoners to be fed and provided for by their friends, so Luke clearly saw the courtesy extended to Paul as something extra, as giving him considerable leeway.
This would mean that under the protection of Rome Paul could see any brethren who wished to come to see him and could teach them to his heart’s content. He was still in a position in complete safety to proclaim the word. At this time when there was so much trouble in Caesarea this would have been invaluable to the church there. People could have been popping in and out to see Paul all day and every day. It is therefore difficult to see why some see Paul as ‘inactive’ at this time. He was probably as active as ever in the preaching of the word.
Meanwhile any further trial was in suspense. The Sanhedrin felt thwarted but knew their man and therefore that they would probably not get any further with him, and were not over concerned as long as Paul was not released. And Felix intended to do nothing at all. By keeping Paul in ‘friendly detention’ he was preventing ferment and yet frustrating Ananias, which he probably enjoyed.
24.24 ‘But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus.’
Meanwhile Felix had been discussing Paul and his teaching with his wife and brought her with him one day, to a place to which he also called Paul to be brought, so that he could hear him concerning ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’. His wife was a Jewess, and about nineteen years old, but we will remember that she had deserted her husband to marry Felix.
24.25 ‘And as he reasoned of righteousness, and self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified, and answered, “Go your way for this time, and when I have a convenient season, I will call you to me.” ’
When asked to expound the truth about ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ Paul did not dampen his message down so as not to cause offence. He knew the facts about Felix, and about his wife. He knew them for what they were. Felix possibly expected an interesting discourse on the resurrection, but he got more than he bargained for, for Paul spoke of righteousness, that is of righteous living and God’s righteousness and how no man is righteous before God and the question of how a person could be righteous with God and of how Christ could provide that righteousness. He also spoke of ‘self-control’. The word indicates especially self-control with regard to sexual matters. It has been translated chastity. In other words he went right to the heart of their own relationship, and the sin that had been involved. He pulled no punches, and no doubt informed them what Jesus had taught on the matter. He was seeking to convince of sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16.8-11). He laid them bare in the eyes of God. And he spoke of judgment to come, and the One Who would be Judge (John 5.22, 26-27). He faced them both with the fact that there was a resurrection of the just and the unjust and that they must then give account of themselves to God. Thus they needed to be ready for it (compare 17.30-31).
Luke adds, ‘Felix was terrified’. To terrify a man like Felix required straight preaching and conviction by the Holy Spirit. He and his wife had been made to face up to their sins and their future consequences if they did not repent. But sadly Felix sent him away without making any commitment, saying that he would discuss the matter at a more convenient time. Neither he nor his wife appear to have responded to his message, and seemingly his wife had no further interest in following it up.
24.26 ‘He hoped withal that money would be given to him by Paul, which was why also he sent for him the more often, and communed with him.’
Felix, however, did follow it up. He had no intention of releasing Paul, or of bringing him to trial, and over the course of two years he sent for him and talked with him more often. But he made no commitment, and Luke comments that his real reason for seeing Paul so often was because he hoped that Paul would try to bribe him to release him. This interesting comment confirms to us that Luke did not look at everything with an unthinking optimism. He could discern between what was genuine, and what was the result of ulterior motives.
It is not surprising that Felix thought that Paul’s family were wealthy. After all he had been born a free Roman citizen, so his family must have been distinguished. Whether of course they were still on good terms with Paul is another question. Sometimes we get the impression in his letters that they were not. Or Felix may have been impressed by the numbers of visitors who came to see Paul, and have thought that they would be able to raise a sufficient bribe. It may have been hints dropped in this direction that convinced Luke of its truth.
Had Paul been too perturbed about his situation he could always have appealed to Caesar. So it may well be that he recognised that God had given him a base from which he could work while guarded in perfect safety.
This also confirms that Felix knew that Paul was innocent, and that he was only holding him in order to obtain financial gain. He was being totally unscrupulous. But we may surmise that meanwhile Paul had considerable freedom, in so far as that was possible for someone ‘in charge’. The church in Caesarea no doubt benefited abundantly. It may well have been as profitable a time spiritually for him and for them as his two years in Corinth, (in Acts Luke regularly leaves the hint of opportunity and then does not give any detail) and have greatly benefited his health. And all the time he was kept in safety in Herod’s palace. The Jews could not touch him there. Luke was probably meanwhile collecting material for his Gospel.
24.27 ‘But when two years were fulfilled, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and desiring to gain favour with the Jews, Felix left Paul in bonds.’
So time passed by until two years were up. And then Felix was called back to Rome and replaced. He continued to reveal the kind of man he was to the end. Being recalled by Nero he deliberately left Paul in custody, and removing the liberty that he had given him put him in bonds (so he had not been previously tied up), so as to try to pacify the Jews over his own bad behaviour towards them (described above). He was mean-minded and mean-spirited to the end.
But Luke has made it quite clear that this was all in the will of God. God was continuing to fulfil his purpose through Paul. By now it was c 59/60 AD.
What a sad picture we have in Felix. The slave who had risen to freedom, rising through favouritism, brutal and lascivious but at some stage learning of ‘the Way’ and being intrigued. It stirred something in his brutal soul and he wondered whether there could be anything there for him. Could he through it obtain a greater freedom? And then he was brought into contact with Paul and he sought to learn more of Jesus Christ and of the Way. And as he heard from him of righteousness, and self-control and judgment, his own sin and unrighteousness were brought home to him, together with the fear of judgment to come. And he was ‘filled with fear’. He was faced up with the claims of Christ, crucified and risen. But he delayed and procrastinated, leaving it for a ‘more convenient season’. It was attractive but he must have time to think, and it was not convenient at present. And then suddenly it was too late. Still he heard the same message but greed had now taken over, and he no longer saw Paul as the herald of what he had heard of so long ago, he no longer considered the Way, but he saw him as a means of gaining more wealth through bribery. Instead of hope dancing before his eyes there was money. Now when he saw Paul it was not ‘meaning to life’ he was seeking but ‘Mammon’. And finally, because his sin had continued to grow and harden his heart and mind, when at last he said farewell to Paul he mean-spiritedly had him put in chains and left him there to his enemies. His opportunity had gone. The love of Christ had still reached out to him, but it was now unnoticed. His heart was irreparably hardened. All he could now think of was how to get out of the trouble that his sin had got him into, while leaving to his fate the man who had so lovingly and so continually sought to reveal to him the truth.
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