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Bible Commentaries
Acts 22

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Paul’s defense before the Jewish mob 21:37-22:22

"In this first of Paul’s five defenses, Luke’s apologetic interests come to the fore in highlighting the nonpolitical character of Christianity (contrary to other messianic movements of the day, cf. Acts 21:38) and in presenting Paul’s mandate to the Gentiles as being the major reason for Jewish opposition to the gospel (cf. Acts 22:10-22)." [Note: Longenecker, p. 523.]

Verses 1-2

Paul addressed his audience warmly and respectfully in the same terms Stephen had used (Acts 7:2). Using the Aramaic language had the desired effect. The Jews paid even closer attention.

"The real crime of S. Paul was preaching to the Gentiles, and the real heresy his gospel of equality of privilege. Hence he defends himself by asserting (1) his loyalty to Israel, and (2) that his preaching was simply obedience to a divine command." [Note: Rackham, p. 407.]

Verses 1-21

Paul’s speech in his defense 22:1-21

The speeches in Acts so far have been mainly in the form of deliberative rhetoric, the purpose of which is to make people change their minds and lives in view of the future. In chapters 22-26, however, the speeches are forensic rhetoric, designed mainly for defensive and apologetic purposes. [Note: See ibid., pp. 660-61, for further discussion.]

Paul needed to defend himself against the charge that he had been disloyal to his people, the Mosaic Law, and the temple (cf. Acts 21:28). His devout Jewish audience was especially skeptical of Paul since he was a Hellenistic Jew who fraternized with Gentiles. This is an excellent example of the Holy Spirit giving the Lord’s servant the words to say on the spur of the moment, as Jesus had promised He would do (Matthew 10:16-20; Mark 13:9-11). All of Paul’s speeches from here on in Acts concern his defense.

"It [the rest of Acts] is a mixture of travel narratives and defense speeches and it covers a full quarter of Acts, indicating its importance." [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 654.]

Verse 3

Paul began by relating his manner of life before his conversion. He emphasized his orthodox background and education under the most respected Jewish teacher of his day, Gamaliel (cf. Acts 5:34). We have no record of how old Paul was when he came to Jerusalem in his youth. It is possible that he spent his early childhood in Jerusalem. [Note: W. C. van Unnik, Tarsus or Jerusalem: The City of Paul’s Youth, pp. 9, 28.] Others believe he spent this part of his life in Tarsus. [Note: E.g., Richard N. Longenecker, Paul, Apostle of Liberty, pp. 25-27.] It is possible that Paul was 13 or 14 years old when he came to Jerusalem. [Note: Robertson, 3:386.] The difference in interpretation springs from two different ways of punctuating this verse. Paul’s point in citing his background was to show his hearers that he was as zealous for his Jewish heritage as any of them (cf. Galatians 1:14).

Verses 4-5

His zeal for God was clear in that he persecuted Christians to death (cf. Acts 9:1-2). This is precisely what his hearers wanted to do in Paul’s case. Paul did so as an agent of the Sanhedrin that gave him authority to pursue Christian Jews as far away as Damascus.

Verses 6-9

Paul next related the events of his conversion and stressed the supernatural revelation God had given him. This revelation accounted for the radical change in his life. This account of Paul’s conversion harmonizes with the other two accounts of it that Luke (Acts 9:3-19) and Paul (Acts 26:12-18) gave us in Acts. On this occasion, as well as in chapter 26, Paul emphasized features that would have been especially significant to his audience. His listeners were Jewish in chapter 22 and Roman in chapter 26.

As in Acts 9:3-6, Paul stressed that his encounter with God was an event that God had initiated. It was not something that Paul or others had sought. Jesus of Nazareth had reached out to him. Therefore Jesus is the Messiah, but He is a risen Messiah. It was this Messiah who had changed Paul’s perspective and understanding. When Paul asked, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 22:8), he was probably addressing the person speaking to him as God and personal master (cf. Acts 9:5). Evidently Paul’s traveling companions heard a voice-like sound, but only Paul understood Jesus’ words (Acts 22:9; cf. Acts 9:7; Acts 26:14; John 12:29).

Verses 10-11

As a good Jew, Paul wanted to obey divine revelation, so he asked, "What shall I do, Lord?" Submissively he allowed others to lead him to Damascus where the Lord had instructed him to go to receive further directions.

Verses 12-13

Paul described Ananias as a devout Jew who carefully observed the law and one who had a good reputation among his fellow Israelites. Paul related Ananias’ words more fully here than Luke did in chapter 9. This respected Jew had also received a revelation from God that he communicated to Paul in distinctly Jewish terms. Paul sought to impress his hearers with the fact that a pious Jew had communicated God’s mission to him. Ananias had even called Paul his brother.

Verses 14-15

Ananias explained to Paul that it was the God of their fathers who had appeared to Paul (cf. Acts 3:14). This title for God is distinctly Jewish. God wanted Paul to know His will, to see the Righteous One (the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, Acts 22:8), and to receive direct revelation from Him. Ananias also said that God had told him that Paul was to be a witness "to all men" of what Paul had seen and heard. This vindicated Paul’s ministry to Gentiles.

"It is important to remember that Paul in Acts is not the apostle to the Gentiles. He has been sent ’to all persons,’ [Acts 22:15] which means both Jews and Gentiles. He is the one through whom the Lord has chosen to realize the divine purpose of including both groups in salvation, as announced already in Luke 2:30-32; Luke 3:6." [Note: Tannehill, 2:280.]

Verse 16

Acts 22:16 has been a problem to some readers of Acts because one might understand it to say that water baptism washes away sins. The writers of Scripture present water baptism elsewhere not as the agent of spiritual cleansing but as the illustration of spiritual cleansing that has already taken place (1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Peter 3:21). The agent of spiritual cleansing is faith in Christ. Paul referred to faith in this verse as "calling on His name" (cf. Joel 2:32). Paul evidently experienced regeneration on the Damascus road; he believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the divine Messiah predicted in the Old Testament (Acts 22:10; cf. Galatians 1:11-12; Acts 9:17-18). He experienced baptism in water after he called on the Lord for salvation. The Lord washed Paul’s sins away when he called on the Lord. Then Paul arose and received baptism. The Greek word epikalesamenos, translated "calling on," is an aorist participle meaning "having called on."

"Baptism symbolized the method of salvation (identification with Christ) and washing symbolized the result (cleansing from sin)." [Note: Kent, p. 166. See also Robertson, 3:391-92.]

Verse 17

Paul next related his mission from God and included some new things that Luke did not record in chapter 9. Evidently Ananias gave Paul God’s commission to go to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). In Jerusalem God confirmed this mission to Paul by special revelation as he was praying in the temple following his return from Damascus (Acts 9:26-29; Galatians 1:18-19). This took place in the third year after his conversion. The fact that Paul was praying in the temple when God gave him direction would have positively impressed this Jewish crowd further.

Verses 18-20

In this vision the risen and exalted Jesus of Nazareth instructed Paul to leave Jerusalem. Luke did not mention this instruction earlier (Acts 9:29-30) but emphasized the activity of Paul’s fellow believers in sending him to Tarsus. Their insistence was in harmony with the Lord’s command. Jerusalem was God’s originally intended place of witness, and the temple had been His place of revelation. The reason Paul needed to leave Jerusalem was that the Jews there would not accept his testimony about Jesus even though Paul had formerly persecuted Jesus’ disciples.

Verse 21

Paul was to go to the Gentiles, the Messiah revealed to him, because the Jews would not accept his witness. Specifically the Lord directed Paul to go to the Gentiles who were far away, namely, Gentiles who had no relationship to Judaism (cf. Acts 2:39).

F. F. Bruce concluded that in narrating Paul’s speeches Luke followed the precedent of the Greek historian Thucydides. Thucydides wrote that he composed the speeches in his history but tried to reproduce the general meaning of what the speakers said. [Note: Bruce, "Paul’s Apologetics . . .," p. 379.] Under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration Luke received guidance to write exactly what God wanted written. Almost all scholars agree that Luke summarized most if not all of the speeches that he recorded in Acts.

Verse 22

The Jews’ response 22:22

Jews had taken messages from God to Gentiles many times in Israel’s past (e.g., Jonah; the Pharisees, Matthew 23:15; et al.). That revelation could not have been what infuriated Paul’s audience. What upset them was that Paul was approaching Gentiles directly about the Messiah without first introducing them to Judaism and its institutions. This was equivalent to placing Gentiles on the same footing before God as Jews, and this was the height of apostasy to the traditional Jewish mind. This is why Paul’s hearers reacted so violently and allowed him to say no more.

"The bulk of Jerusalem has reacted now against Jesus, Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul. For Acts, this is a final, key rejection of the gospel . . ." [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 653.]

Verses 23-24

Claudius Lysias could not understand why the Jews reacted as they did. If he did not understand Aramaic, his confusion would have been even greater. He could not tolerate a riot, so he decided to get the truth from Paul by threatening him and, if necessary, torturing him. This type of beating, with strips of leather embedded with scraps of bone or metal fastened to a stout wooden handle, usually resulted in death or permanent crippling. [Note: See Witherington, p. 676, for drawings of four varieties of Roman scourges.] This is the weapon the Roman soldiers used to beat Jesus after Pilate had declared Him innocent (Matthew 27:26; John 18:38 to John 19:1). This would have been the worst beating Paul ever experienced (cf. Acts 16:22-23; 2 Corinthians 11:24-25).

"In being called as witness to this Jesus, Paul was also called to suffering (Acts 9:16), suffering that increasingly looks like Jesus’ suffering (cf. Acts 21:11-14; Acts 22:22) and includes an extensive series of trials and threats to Paul’s life. The trials, even though extended over much more time and depicted in fuller scenes, resemble Jesus’ trials. Both Jesus and Paul must appear before the Jewish council, the Roman governor, and a Jewish king. Both are repeatedly declared innocent yet not released." [Note: Tannehill, 2:282.]

Verses 23-29

Paul’s defense before Claudius Lysias 22:23-29

Verse 25

Roman law protected Roman citizens from the scourge (Lat. flagellum) before they went on trial and even if they were guilty. [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p. 528. ] The fact that Paul raised a question in his defense rather than demanding his release reflects his self-control in this dangerous situation. He was under the Spirit’s control.

". . . martyrdom is only of value when it cannot be avoided." [Note: Morgan, p. 383.]

"Paul waits until he has been chained for the same reason as in 16.37; he now has legal room to maneuver against them." [Note: Keener, p. 390.]

Verses 26-28

During the reign of Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54) it was possible to obtain Roman citizenship for a high price. Claudius Lysias’ name probably has some connection with the emperor Claudius since the commander had evidently purchased his citizenship under the reign of this emperor. This had not always been possible in the empire. Earlier the government conferred citizenship for rendering valuable service to a Roman general or high official. [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p. 446.] This is probably how Paul’s father or grandfather received his citizenship. As the son of a Roman citizen, Paul inherited this status; it did not come to him because he was a citizen of Tarsus. Tarsus was a free city, not a colony of Rome like Philippi. Born citizens enjoyed greater respect than Romans who had bought their citizenship. [Note: See Witherington, pp. 679-84, for further discussion of Roman citizenship.]

Roman citizens kept the documents proving their status in secure places, and nothing external identified them as citizens. People normally accepted a verbal claim to being a Roman citizen at face value since to claim citizenship falsely was a capital offense. [Note: Suetonius, "The Deified Claudius," in The Lives of the Caesars, 2:5:25.] Claudius Lysias took the course of action that was safest for him and accepted Paul’s claim.

"Perhaps he [Paul] carries his diploma, a wooden diptych containing his registration as a citizen." [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 664.]

Verse 29

The soldiers should not have bound Paul until someone had formally charged him with a crime.

"The narrative of an action-packed day ends after this indication that Paul is fully a member of the two worlds to which he has been sent. He is both a devout Jew (Acts 22:3) and a Roman citizen." [Note: Tannehill, 2:284.]

Paul’s defense before the Sanhedrin 22:30-23:10

"The irregular structure of Luke’s account of Paul’s defense before the Sanhedrin evidently reflects the tumultuous character of the session itself. Three matters pertaining to Luke’s apologetic purpose come to the fore: (1) Christianity is rooted in the Jewish doctrine of the resurrection of the dead (cf. Acts 23:6); (2) the debate Paul was engaged in regarding Christianity’s claims must be viewed as first of all a Jewish intramural affair (cf. Acts 23:7-10); and (3) the ongoing proclamation of the gospel in the Gentile world stems from a divine mandate (cf. Acts 23:11)." [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," pp 529-30.]

Verse 30

The commander released Paul from his chains but kept him in custody. He decided the Sanhedrin could discover why the Jews were accusing Paul since he could not figure this out. He ordered this body to meet to examine Paul because he was responsible for keeping peace in Jerusalem. If Paul’s offenses proved inconsequential, Claudius Lysias would release him. If the Jews charged him with some religious crime, the Sanhedrin could try him. If they charged him with a civil crime, the Roman provincial governor would try him. [Note: See my comments on 4:5 for information about the Sanhedrin.]

This was at least the sixth time that the Sanhedrin had to evaluate the claims of Christ. The first occasion was when it met to consider reports about Jesus (John 11:47-53), and the second was Jesus’ trial (Matthew 26:57-68; Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 14:53-65; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71). The third meeting was the trial of Peter and John (Acts 4:5-22), the fourth was the trial of the Twelve (Acts 5:21-40), and the fifth was Stephen’s trial (Acts 6:12 to Acts 7:60).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 22". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/acts-22.html. 2012.
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