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Bible Commentaries
Acts 23

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-35

Chapter 23

THE STRATEGY OF PAUL ( Acts 23:1-10 )

23:1-10 Paul fixed his gaze on the Sanhedrin and said, "Brethren, I have lived before God with a completely pure conscience up to this day." The high priest Ananias ordered those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Paul said to him, "God is going to strike you, you white-washed wall! Do you sit judging me according to the Law and do you order me to be struck and so break the Law?" Those who were standing beside him said, "Are you insulting God's high priest?" Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest. If I had known I would not have spoken so, for it stands written, 'You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'" Now Paul knew that one section of them were Sadducees and the other section were Pharisees, so he shouted out in the Sanhedrin, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee and the son of Pharisees, and I am on trial for the hope of the resurrection of the dead." When he said this a disturbance arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the meeting was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection nor angel nor spirit, while the Pharisees acknowledge both. There was a great uproar; and some of the scribes who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and argued and said, "We find no fault in this man. What if a spirit or angel has spoken to him?" When a great disturbance was going on the commander was so afraid that Paul might be torn apart by them so he ordered the guard to go down and to snatch him out of their midst and to bring him into the barracks.

There was a certain audacious recklessness about Paul's conduct before the Sanhedrin; he acted like a man who knew that he was burning his boats. Even his very beginning was a challenge. To say Brethren was to put himself on an equal footing with the court; for the normal beginning when addressing the Sanhedrin was, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel." When the high priest ordered Paul to be struck, he himself was transgressing the Law, which said, "He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite, strikes, as it were, the glory of God." So Paul rounds upon him, calling him a white-washed wall. To touch a dead body was for an Israelite to incur ceremonial defilement; it was therefore the custom to white-wash tombs so that none might be touched by mistake. So Paul is in effect calling the high priest a white-washed tomb.

It was indeed a crime to speak evil of a ruler of the people ( Exodus 22:28). Paul knew perfectly well that Ananias was high priest. But Ananias was notorious as a glutton, a thief, a rapacious robber and a quisling in the Roman service. Paul's answer really means, "This man sitting there--I never knew a man like that could be high priest of Israel." Then Paul made a claim that he knew would set the Sanhedrin by the ears. In the Sanhedrin there were Pharisees and Sadducees whose beliefs were often opposed. The Pharisees believed in the minutiae of the oral Law; the Sadducees accepted only the written Law. The Pharisees believed in predestination; the Sadducees believed in free-will. The Pharisees believed in angels and spirits; the Sadducees did not. Above all, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead; the Sadducees did not.

So Paul claimed to be a Pharisee and that it was for the hope of resurrection from the dead he was on trial. As a result the Sanhedrin was split in two; and in the violent argument that followed Paul was nearly torn in pieces. To save him from violence the commander had to take him back to the barracks again.

A PLOT UNMASKED ( Acts 23:11-24 )

23:11-24 On the next night the Lord stood by Paul and said, "Courage! As you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness in Rome also." When it was day the Jews formed a plot and laid themselves selves under a vow neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who formed this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, "We have laid ourselves under a vow to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. Now, therefore, do you lay information with the commander, so that he may bring him down to us, as if you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly; and we are ready to kill him before he gets your length." But Paul's sister's son was there and heard the plot. So he went into the barracks and reported it to Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, "Take this young man to the commander for he has something to report to him." He took him and brought him to the commander and said, "The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to take this young man to you because he has something to say to you." The commander took him by the hand and took him aside privately and asked him, "What is it that you have to report to me?" He said, "The Jews have got together to ask you to bring Paul down to the Sanhedrin tomorrow, as if they were going to make a more thorough investigation into his case. Do not you therefore agree to them for more than forty, who have taken a vow upon themselves neither to eat or drink till they have killed him, are lying in wait for him; and they are now ready, expecting your assent." The commander dismissed the young man with instructions to tell no one that--as he said--"you have brought this information to me." He called two of his centurions and said to them, "Get ready two hundred soldiers, seventy cavalry and two hundred spearsmen to go to Caesarea at about nine o'clock in the morning. Provide baggage animals that they may mount Paul and get him through to Felix, the governor, in safety."

Here we see two things. First, we see the lengths to which the Jews would go to eliminate Paul. Under certain circumstances the Jews regarded murder as justifiable. If a man was a public danger to morals and to life they regarded it as legitimate to eliminate him. So forty men put themselves under a vow. The vow was called a cherem. When a man took such a vow he said, "May God curse me if I fail to do this." These men vowed neither to eat nor drink, and put themselves under the ban of God, until they had assassinated Paul. Fortunately their plan was laid bare by Paul's nephew. Second, we see the lengths to which the Roman government would go in order to administer impartial justice. Paul was a prisoner; but he was a Roman citizen and therefore the commander mobilized a small army to see him taken in safety to Caesarea to be tried before Felix. It is strange how the fanatical hatred of the Jews--God's chosen people--contrasts with the impartial justice of the commander--a heathen in Jewish eyes.

THE CAPTAIN'S LETTER ( Acts 23:25-35 )

23:25-35 The commander wrote a letter to the following effect, "Claudius Lysias to his excellency Felix, the governor--greetings! When this man was seized by the Jews and when he was going to be murdered by them, I stepped in with the guard and rescued him, for I learned that he was a Roman citizen. As I wished to discover the charges on which they accused him, I brought him down to their Sanhedrin. I found that he was accused of some questions of their Law and was under no charge deserving of death or bonds. When it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man. I immediately sent him to you and I ordered his accusers to make their statement against him before you."

The soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul up and brought him by night to Antipatris. On the next day they returned to barracks, leaving the cavalry to proceed with him. They came into Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor and set Paul before him. When he had read the letter and had asked from what province he came. and when he had found out that he was from Cilicia, he said, "I will hear your case when your accusers are here also"; and he ordered him to be kept in Herod's Praetorium.

The seat of Roman government was not in Jerusalem but in Caesarea. The praetorium ( G4232) is the residence of a governor; and the praetorium in Caesarea was a palace which had been built by Herod the Great. Claudius ( G2804) Lysias ( G3079) wrote his letter, absolutely fair and completely impartial, and the cavalcade set out. It was 60 miles from Jerusalem to Caesarea and Antipatris was 25 miles from Caesarea. Up to Antipatris the country was dangerous and inhabited by Jews; after that the country was open and flat, quite unsuited for any ambush and largely inhabited by Gentiles. So at Antipatris the main body of the troops went back and left the cavalry alone as a sufficient escort.

The governor to whom Paul was taken was Felix and his name was a byword. For five years he had governed Judaea and for two years before that he had been stationed in Samaria; he had still two years to go before being dismissed from his post. He had begun life as a slave. His brother, Pallas, was the favourite of Nero. Through the influence of Pallas, Felix had risen first to be a freedman and then to be a governor. He was the first slave in history ever to become the governor of a Roman province. Tacitus, the Roman historian, said of him, "He exercised the prerogatives of a king with the spirit of a slave." He had actually been married to three princesses one after another. The name of the first is not known; the second was a grand-daughter of Antony and Cleopatra; the third was Drusilla, the daughter of Herod Agrippa the First. He was completely unscrupulous and was capable of hiring thugs to murder his own closest supporters. It was to face a man like that that Paul went to Caesarea.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 23". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/acts-23.html. 1956-1959.
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