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Bible Commentaries
Acts 22

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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From the steps of the Roman fortress, with a calmness that permeates this vast audience, Paul gives a characteristic motion of his hand (21:40) and begins his defense in the Hebrew tongue (2). In an attempt to clarify who he is and the circumstances that brought him to this point, Paul recites the history of his life both before and after his conversion. It quickly becomes apparent that Paul’s speech has no impact on these murderous Jews. To protect himself from the Jews and the Roman soldiers, Paul claims his rights as a Roman citizen (25).

Verse 1

Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.

The addressing of "Men, brethren, fathers" is an ordinary salutation to a Hebrew audience. The term "brethren" is used in a national sense. To lend a bit more to this choice of words, it is interesting to note that this is the same greeting used by Stephen when he stands in a similar predicament before the Jewish court (7:2).

Verse 2

(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith, )

The fact that Paul speaks in the "Hebrew tongue" (Aramaic) rather than Greek must have caught the Jews off guard; it, no doubt, pleases them in spite of who the speaker is."Aramaic was not only the vernacular of Palestinian Jews, but was the common speech of all non-Greek speakers in western Asia..." (Coffman 418). Paul, the master of circumstances, has set a most dramatic scene for his presentation. Lenski gives the following description of the situation giving focus to our imagination:

Luke wants us to catch the contrast: a moment ago the roar of an enraged mob, this moment, after a single sentence from Paul’s lips, absolute silence. Visualize the scene; few of a more dramatic nature are found even in the New Testament. What was passing through the mind of the chiliarch as he eyed Paul and glanced at the crowds and yet understood not a word of what the apostle said?

Verse 3

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

For an introduction, Paul gives the audience his most impressive credentials.

I am verily a man which am a Jew: Paul states he is a Jew by birth, "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5).

born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia: See notes on Acts 21:39.

yet brought up in this city: Lenski makes this observation: the term "born" means "nourished up" and thus "reared" while the word "brought up" means "to train a child" (901). Paul is telling these Jews he was born abroad, yet he was educated in Jerusalem.

at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers: To mention "Gamaliel" as the source of one’s education in those days is akin to being a graduate of Harvard, Yale, or some other prestigious college of our day. Paul has the ultimate in education (for additional information on Gamaliel, see 5:34). (For more extensive notes on Paul’s cultural and educational background, see notes on 9:1.)

and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day: Paul uses the utmost in diplomacy with this statement. He tells these Jews that as they now are, he one time was.

I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 26:9).

Verse 4

And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.

We dare not miss the poignant fact that this information reveals. A person can be wellborn, well educated, religious, taught in the scriptures, honest, sincere, "zealous toward God, "and yet be a persecutor of Jesus and an enemy of truth.

(See 9:2 for notes on "this way.")

Verse 5

As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.

Paul states that he himself was once a bitter enemy of "this way" and was empowered by the high priest and the Sanhedrin court to bind and punish the followers of Jesus Christ. "Some in the audience, Paul’s old companions in persecution, and subsequent enemies, knew all the facts here recited, but they were unknown to the majority of the crowd..." (McGarvey, Vol. II 215). (See notes on 9:2.)

Verse 6

And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. 7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

The record that Luke gives here corresponds with his original account given in chapter nine with a few variations. Therefore, the reader is advised to read the notes given in 9:3-18 for the majority of the comments about these verses.

In these verses, the only difference in the version given in chapter nine is the time is stated, "about noon." Any light that would stand out against the brilliant noonday sun of the Syrian desert would not be mistaken as some natural event.

Verses 8-9

And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

Here is a variation that the enemies of God’s word have latched on to and tried to make it into a contradiction. In Luke’s record in Acts 9:7, he says, the men "hearing a voice"; but here "they heard not the voice." A detailed explanation is given in Acts 9:7.

Verses 10-11

And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.

See notes on Acts 9:6-9.

Verse 12

And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,

Here Paul makes a special note, for the benefit of these Jews, concerning Ananias when he says, "Ananias, a devout man according to the law." That Ananias has been a "devout" Jew is a fact, but it is also a fact that Ananias has been converted to Christianity.

Verses 13-15

Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.

The fact that Ananias calls Saul "brother" is not indicating Saul is a "brother in Christ" because Saul is not yet "in Christ." One must be baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27). Saul is the brother of Ananias only in the nationalistic sense: they are both Jewish (see notes on 9:15-17).

Verse 16

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins: The urgent necessity for baptism is emphasized by Ananias. The reason for the urgency is clear: until a person is baptized he will remain a sinner! It is a common practice in denominational churches to hold baptismal candidates until the end of the meeting, or they baptize once a month or once a year. The reason for delay is they see no spiritual value in baptism. They baptize as "an outward sign that the person has already been saved" or to allow one to "join their church." Is it not ironic? It is more difficult to "join" some denominations than it is to be saved! There is no excuse for this mistake. It is clearly seen here that baptism is necessary to "wash away thy sins." (See more extensive notes at 2:38; 9:18; 16:32-33.)

Nothing is more clearly taught in the NT than the fact of baptism being ’unto the remission of sins, ’ and that it is not to be despised as in any manner unessential, optional, or discretionary for those who truly wish to be saved (Coffman 424).

calling on the name of the Lord: To "call on the name of the Lord" involves more than simply saying, "Jesus, save me" or "I accept Jesus as my personal savior." To call on the name of the Lord must include doing what the Lord says for us to do.

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say (Luke 6:46)?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

In this particular case, Conybeare and Howson suggest the "calling on the name of the Lord" "is reference to the confession of faith in Jesus which preceded baptism" (639). (See Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:10.) (See notes on 2:21; 8:37.)

Verses 17-18

And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.

Luke does not record this fact in the original narrative. We learn that after Paul’s conversion and his subsequent return to Jerusalem, Jesus appears to him in a vision ("trance") and instructs him to make all "haste" to leave Jerusalem (9:26).

Verses 19-20

And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.

It is a most interesting thought to imagine Paul, in his zeal to evangelize the Jews, making a protest to the Lord; yet this seems to have been the case. Evidently Paul thinks by telling the Jews how he himself at one time had been the chief adversary of Jesus Christ, even consenting to the death of the first Christian martyr, perhaps the Jews would see that his conversion is genuine and listen to his words.

Verse 21

And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.

At this time it is clear Paul does not fully appreciate the intense hatred the Jews have for him. The Jews look upon Paul as a traitor to their cause, so they want nothing to do with him except to put him to death. At the insistence of Jesus, Paul escapes Jerusalem with his life (9:29-30). He is sent to preach to the Gentiles.

Verse 22

And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.

The malevolent memories of this audience have not forgotten their original purpose. They have patiently listened up to this point to Paul’s speech; but at the mention of going "unto the Gentiles, " (verse 21) they are riveted back to their original intention: to kill Paul!

Verse 23

And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,

The riot is back in full swing. These Jews may impatiently listen to Paul tell of his conversion, they may suffer him to tell the story of Jesus, but they will not bear the testimony that God has now included the Gentiles in His salvation. They cast off their outer garments so that they may have freedom of movement in order to stone Paul to death. Like bulls that vent their rage by pawing the dirt, this frustrated mob throws dust into the air. The tossing of dust into the air "would seem to have been a natural relief, as with other Oriental nations, to the violence of uncontrolled passion" (Plumptre 153).

Could this scene be a flash back for Paul to what must have been one of his saddest memories? On another similar occasion, the howling mob "laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen..." (7:58-59).

Verse 24

The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.

We can appreciate the consternation of this chief captain. It appears he is not sure what is going on. It is also certain the speech made by Paul does not fill in any of the blanks as to who Paul is and with what he should be charged. As a last resort, Lysias retreats to a tried and proven practice of whipping (scourging) in hopes he may elicit from Paul’s own lips what he cannot get from the confused clamor of the crowd. It is customary to whip the one to be "examined" until a confession is literally beaten out of him.

Verse 25

And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?

And as they bound him with thongs: The Roman way of scourging was to strip the victim to the waist, stretch his arms around a column or whipping post, and tie his hands with leather thongs. Then the beating is administered with a "scourge" or leather whip whose tips often have braided into them pieces of bone or metal so that with each stroke of the whip the flesh is torn and mangled. It is generally believed that Jesus was whipped at this very post to which they are about to tie Paul (Matthew 27:26).

Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned: It is beneficial for us to update the scene for our imaginations at this point. The soldiers have taken Paul into the confines of the castle in hopes of beating a confession out of him. The frustrated Jews are left outside to howl themselves hoarse. The chief captain has retired to his quarters to wait for the scourges to loosen Paul’s tongue. The centurion is about the business of seeing that Paul is bound around the whipping post when Paul, with aplomb that only he could muster under such circumstances, says, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman?"

Is it legal to scourge a Roman? It is unlawful to scourge a Roman citizen for any reason! The law even went farther than scourging; it is against the law to bind a Roman citizen with thongs because "this was the way that slaves were bound" (Plumptre 153).

Verses 26-27

When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.

When the centurion learns Paul is a Roman, he goes immediately to his captain with the shocking news. We can rest assured this revelation is the source of a new concern for the chief captain. They have already violated Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen when they illegally bound him with thongs. This heavy-handed treatment may be all right for normal mortals but not for a Roman! "We can admire the majesty of the law, which, in a remote province, and within the walls of a prison, could thus dash to the ground the uplifted instruments of torture under the simple declaration, I am a Roman citizen’" (McGarvey, Vol. II 221-222).

Of special note is the fact that Paul’s claim to be a citizen is accepted without question. No one would be foolish enough to claim citizenship falsely. To do so was a crime punishable by death.

Verse 28

And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.

In the days when Rome ruled the known world, Roman citizenship was a rare prize and highly desired for the privileges it guaranteed. Paul invokes his rights as a Roman citizen for the second time, and this time spares himself the pain of the Roman whip (16:37). There were several ways in which citizenship might be attained. McGarvey supplies the following information:

Citizenship was lawfully obtained in three different ways. It was conferred by the senate for meritorious conduct; it was inherited from a father who was a citizen; and it was the birthright of one who was born in a free city; that is, a city which, for some especial service to the empire, was rewarded by granting citizenship to all born within its limits. It was unlawfully obtained by the use of money in the absence of meritorious conduct (Vol. II 221).

Lysias realizes that to be born a Roman citizen is superior to the way he has become one. It is with "a great sum" that the chief captain bribed as many government officials as necessary to have his name placed on the roll of Roman citizenship. The selling of citizenship was a form of corruption that became very common in the Roman government.

Speculation abounds about how Paul became a Roman citizen. The fact that he was born a Roman citizen indicates that his father or grandfather before him was a Roman citizen. How they became citizens is unknown.

Verse 29

Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

Paul’s declaration of Roman citizenship brings about an immediate reversal in the plans of these Roman soldiers. All involved in this illegal treatment of Paul are now concerned about their own fate because the penalties inflicted by Rome for violation of its citizens’ rights was sure and severe.

Verse 30

On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.

We are made to feel sorry for the unfortunate position in which Claudius Lysias finds himself. Remembering the dilemma of Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:22-24), it is clear that men of authority often must deal with difficult situations they would prefer to leave alone. Lysias wants to discharge his duty as the chiliarch, but he is unsure what his duty really is. He has gained no useful information from the mob. He has learned nothing from Paul’s speech. Now, he decides that since Paul "was accused of the Jews, " he will call the Jewish council (the Sanhedrin) in an attempt to get to the bottom of this matter. Unlike Pilate, this Roman chief captain is not going to be intimidated by the bloodthirsty cries of this self-righteous court of Jewish bullies.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 22". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-22.html. 1993-2022.
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