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Bible Commentaries
Acts 22

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Verses 1-5

Origin and Former Life Walk

Paul addresses his audience with “brethren and fathers”. The form of address “brethren” indicates his connection with them, while by addressing them as “fathers” (of the people) he expresses his respect for them. He asks them to hear his defense towards them.

It was already dead quiet on the square, but it becomes even more quiet when they hear how he speaks to them in their own language. He places himself as close to them as possible. Paul’s defense consists of telling them about his conversion. He tells his story here to the Jewish crowd. In Acts 26 he will tell his conversion history once more, there to King Agrippa and his entourage, in front of an audience that consists of high-ranking people. In Acts 9 we have already had that history before us, but then as it was given to Luke by the Holy Spirit to write down.

His accountability to the Jews here is to indicate that he is a faithful Jew and not an apostate. He also makes it clear that wherever he makes followers of the Messiah, he does so without obliging them to keep the law. He declares that he does not do this of his own accord, but because he has received a vocation to do so from above, from heaven.

He repeats for the people what he also said to the commander concerning his origin. He is a Jewish man, therefore one of them. He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, today’s Turkey, where there was a large Jewish community. Stephen argued in Jerusalem with Jews from Cilicia (Acts 6:9), but those men could not resist Stephen’s spirit and wisdom. There is also a Jew from Cilicia here, but a very different one from the Jew who agreed with Stephen’s death at the time. How that change came about, he will tell in a moment.

First he takes his hearers with him on his life journey, showing how much he and his hearers have in common. He tells them that he moved from Tarsus to, “this city”, Jerusalem, to be raised here. Paul grew up in Tarsus in the midst of paganism. In Jerusalem he became deeply rooted in the ancestral law to which he completely submitted himself in all his behavior.

He sat at the feet of the generally respected Gamaliel and received education from him. According to tradition Gamaliel had five hundred pupils, among whom Paul excelled above all others (Galatians 1:13-2 Chronicles :). All traditions related to the law he absorbed and have shaped him. Everything he learned he put into practice with unprecedented zeal, as they still do. As for himself, he speaks in the past tense, as for them, in the present tense.

His former life’s walk is entirely in keeping with their conceptions. He gives them the compliment that they are zealous for God. In the letter to the Romans, he says it is a zeal not in accordance with knowledge (Romans 10:2). He tells how, in blind zeal for the maintenance of the ancestral law, he fought against everything that pushed aside the importance of that law. That is why the Christians had to pay for it.

This new “Way”, this new sect or movement in Judaism, as Christendom was seen in the early days, was in his eyes an enormous threat to the religion of the fathers. Anyone who chose this Way deserved to be killed. To this end, without making any distinction between men and women, he handed those who belonged to this Way over to chains and in prisons.

In his passion he even travelled to Damascus to bring disciples to Jerusalem. Once he had captivated them, he did everything he could to prevent them from escaping him. That is why he chained them and carried them captivated to Jerusalem. The testimonies concerning the truth of his conduct can be obtained from the High Priest and all the Council of the elders. They know about this because they have provided him with letters to do his ‘work’.

Verses 6-10

Paul Meets the Glorified Lord

Here Paul comes to an important point in his defense. His zeal in the persecution of Christians takes a radical turn here. He is going to tell how that change has happened. When he traveled to Damascus and almost arrived there, an unexpected and sudden event took place. He remembers that it was around noon – we don’t read that in Acts 9 – that is, when the sun is highest in the sky and shines brightest. If at that time a light is seen that is even brighter than the sun, it must come from the sky (2 Corinthians 4:5-Joshua :). It is light that comes from the presence of God, a light that transcends the light of the sun, of creation. The result was that he fell to the ground. Paul is not ashamed to tell that.

He goes on to tell his audience that he heard a voice saying to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” To persecute the believers meant to persecute Him Who spoke to him from heaven; such unity is He with His own on earth. He also remembers what he answered to that question. These were the first words from Saul to the Lord. His answer consisted of the question to the Lord: “Who are You, Lord?” This is the question with which everyone who comes to faith must begin. It is the question about the Person of the Lord Jesus. It is about getting to know Him.

The answer to his question must have been staggering. He appeared to have to do with “Jesus the Nazarene”. He persecuted Him! So he did not persecute deceived Christians who had to be rid of delusions in any way, but a truly living Jesus. Jesus, Whom he persecuted, was no longer in death, but glorified in heaven. This had to make the Jews he spoke to think, because they still believed the lie that the soldiers had spread after bribery by the religious leaders (Matthew 28:11-Ezra :).

The Lord Jesus calls Himself ‘the Nazarene’, i.e. the One from Nazareth. This is how the Jews had known Him when He was on earth and this is how they had despised Him. To Saul’s dismay He appeared to be the glorified Christ.

Saul’s fellow travelers were the undeniable witnesses of what was happening, but the message was meant only for Paul. They did not hear “the voice”, but a sound of a voice (Acts 9:7; cf. John 12:28-Joel :). They heard that something was said, but not what was said. So many today hear the sound of the gospel without understanding the message.

Then Saul spoke to the Lord for the second time, again in the form of a question. The second question he asked the Lord was: “What shall I do, Lord?” This question must be asked by every believer as a principle of his whole life. To answer the question ‘Who are you, Lord?’ it is necessary to sit at the Lord’s feet to feed on Him and get to know Him (cf. Luke 10:39). Then comes the question of being busy for the Lord, being active for Him. The Christian life is a balanced relationship between education and practice.

For Saul it meant that he had to go to Damascus, where the Lord had prepared a simple disciple to give him further instructions. He did not have to go back to Jerusalem to be directed by the apostles. Saul no longer determined his life, but God determined about him what he had to do. That is also the case with us. What matters is that we walk in the good works that God has prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10).

Verses 11-16

Paul in Damascus With Ananias

The glory of the light was so great that he was blinded by it. He was converted and yet still in darkness. He still had to hear the saving word. Therefore he was taken by the hand of those who were with him. This is how he came to Damascus. That was a different entry than he had imagined. He also describes this scene without being ashamed of it. He, the great persecutor of Christians, who thought he had or would have everything under control, completely lost his orientation. He must be taken by the hand to be taken where he needed to go, to meet someone for whom he had come to Damascus to handcuff him.

This man was named “Ananias”, which means “Yahweh is merciful”. He was a devout man by the standard of the Law, so Paul tells his audience. And that was not just a testimony he gave of himself, but all the Jews in Damascus knew him that way. They all gave a good testimony of him. That should convince his hearers that what Ananias did to him was entirely within the framework of their thinking. Paul always points to the connection with Judaism, not only before his conversion but also during and after.

This Ananias came to Saul and stood with him. It was the Jew Ananias who was at Saul’s side, as it were, to assure him of his support. Ananias underscores this by the words “brother Saul”. He accepts him as a brother, as a member of the family. On these words Ananias lets follow the liberating words: “Receive your sight!”. Saul did this at the same time. He got his eyesight back and could see Ananias. He looked up to him. This also means that he gave Ananias a higher place than himself. Saul had first seen the Lord and now he saw a brother. That always goes together. It is not possible to see the Lord and not have an eye for our brothers and sisters.

Then Paul tells what message Ananias had for him on behalf of God. Ananias called God “the God of our fathers”. By mentioning this he again connects himself in his history with his Jewish listeners. He also says it to make it clear to the Jews that they are dealing with God and that opposition to him, Paul, means that they are resisting the God in Whom they say they believe.

Paul had seen “the Righteous One” on the road to Damascus. This beautiful name for the Lord Jesus aptly describes His whole revelation on earth. He was on earth the Man Who was perfectly righteous in all relations and gave to everyone what was rightfully his due. That also included His relationship with God. Paul saw Him as the Righteous One in heaven, because what He was on earth, He is also in heaven. God had predestined him to be a witness of that Righteous One to all men.

In this word “all men” it is already implied that Paul would be a witness not only for the Jews, but also for all non-Jews. He had a vocation for the whole world. At the beginning of Acts, the twelve apostles always testified of a resurrected Lord. They had had Him in their midst for forty days as the resurrected Lord and so they could bear witness to that. Paul would testify of a glorified Lord, the glorified Man at God’s right hand. He had seen Him in glory (1 Corinthians 9:1) and heard His voice from the glory. Paul’s testimony therefore has a unique character.

After these words Ananias urged him to activity. He had to get up and be baptized. Saul stood inwardly, in his heart, on the side of the Lord Jesus, but outwardly he was still on the side of the people who had rejected Him. He still had to be saved from the perverse generation outwardly (Acts 2:40-Mark :). Through baptism he did not receive a new birth. He had already been born again. Therefore, the washing away of sins has not to do with his salvation for heaven, but with the outer testimony that is connected with baptism. Baptism does not bring in heaven, but adds to the company of disciples on earth. Baptism washes away sins before the eyes of men, the blood washes away sins before God.

Through baptism there is a separation between the former existence in Judaism and belonging to Christendom. Everything that is connected with baptism only has to do with the external side of conversion. What happened in Saul’s heart regarding the relationship between him and God, only God and Saul know. Baptism had to take place in order to make this visible to the people, to show it to the outside world as well. In this way he would separate himself from Judaism externally. While being baptized, he had to call on the Name of the Lord Jesus. Calling on that Name is giving testimony of His Name as the only Name to Whom he addresses and to Whom he submits.

Verses 17-21

Paul’s Missionary Commission

After his contact with Ananias, Saul returned to Jerusalem. There he went, he continues, as still faithful, though now converted, Jew in the temple. While he was in the temple in prayer, he fell into a trance (cf. Acts 10:10). A trance is a state in which the ordinary consciousness and understanding of natural circumstances have disappeared and the heart is only receptive to what God shows. Saul was so absorbed in his prayer that he forgot all natural things. Then the Lord appeared to him for the second time. We have heard nothing about this appearance in Acts 9. For the second time he saw the Lord Jesus in His glory. The Lord appeared to him now only to tell him that he had to leave Jerusalem because they would not accept his testimony about the Lord.

Paul says this here to make it clear to his Jewish listeners that his departure from Jerusalem is on the explicit command of the glorified Lord. He does not mention here that the Lord also used the brethren for this, as we read in Acts 9 (Acts 9:30). These two aspects are not opposite each other either, but represent two sides of his departure from Jerusalem.

His Jewish hearers are still very quiet, but with all of them the anger will be growing. Paul dares to say that the Lord said that his testimony would not be accepted in Jerusalem, Jerusalem so famous for its connection with Yahweh. How dare he assume that the people of Jerusalem are people who do not listen to God, while the Gentiles will hear! That finally leads to their emotional outburst. Yet they could know through the prophet Isaiah that God’s salvation would also go to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). This has also been confirmed by the two thousand years of world evangelism behind us.

Paul tells how he was not immediately willing to go and how he entered into conversation with the Lord about the commission he received, just as Ananias and Peter had done (Acts 9:13; Acts 10:14). He would much rather have stayed in Jerusalem. There as a witness he would have come out much better. There they knew him as a zealous persecutor of the Christians. Wouldn’t he even be able to bear witness to his conversion there in order to win them over to the Lord?

As an extra powerful argument to convince the Lord he pointed to his agreement with Stephen’s death. He had helped with this by watching out for the coats of those who stoned Stephen. Paul speaks of Stephen as “Your witness”. He does not accuse the people of shedding Stephen’s blood. In this way he does full justice to Stephen without making a direct accusation against the Jews.

Then he speaks the words that the Lord said to him and with which He ended his objections. He is told: “Go!” He had to leave Jerusalem. He is also told where the Lord would send him, namely “far away to the Gentiles”.

Verses 22-23

The Reaction of the Jews

When Paul speaks about his mission to the Gentiles, the bomb bursts. A Jew wanted absolutely nothing to do with a mission to the Gentiles (cf. Deuteronomy 32:21). That it is precisely at this point that they explode into anger is because it is precisely this point that affects them in their exclusivity. Since childhood they have heard that they are the only people who have any connection with God. They alone are the chosen people. If there is blessing for other peoples, then only through them.

The idea that the Messiah – and Paul says he believes in Him – instead of restoring Israel to its former glory, will make the Gentiles His people, is totally unacceptable to them. As if the Gentiles are on the same level, yes, even higher than Israel. It is impossible for them to make proselytes that do not belong to Judaism. It is all completely impossible to accept.

We see that Paul’s testimony has no other result than a revelation of hatred. The outburst of anger manifests itself in shouting, throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air. This revelation of hatred confirms what the Lord said to him twenty years earlier and what was also expressed recently by the Holy Spirit. But the grace of the Lord is also present here in support of Paul when he gives his testimony.

Verses 24-30

Appeal to Roman Civil Right

The commander sees the matter escalating again and takes action. He is tired of this man letting the case get out of hand for the second time. Because Paul gave his speech in Hebrew, he may not have understood a thing. That must have pretty much frustrated him. He gropes in the dark about what was said. Now the hidden intentions have to come out of this man. Under scourging he will start to tell the truth. While they are preparing for this, Paul quietly asks about the legal basis for the treatment he has to undergo while he is a Roman citizen. Paul has the right to do so. He recognizes government as an institution of God to bless those who do good (Romans 13:3). He points this out to the government here.

It may be that, as has been suggested, he is not in accordance with his high calling here. In a certain sense, he has ended up in these difficulties through his own actions. In Philippi he did not appeal to his civil right when he was treated unjustly (Acts 16:23). He did, however, when they wanted to release him a little later in secret. That was because it served the cause of Christ at that time (Acts 16:37). But this is about him. Earlier he had declared himself to be a Jew, now he declares himself to be a Roman. Both were not sin, but was this the power of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of Christ? However, we are equally entitled to ask where the Lord desires His own to surrender to unnecessary suffering. And in general we can say that for all those who criticize the behavior of the apostle here, it is easier to be a martyr in theory than in practice.

Paul’s appeal to his Roman civil right brings the preparations for scourging to a standstill. The centurion assumes that Paul speaks the truth and lets his superior know that Paul is a Roman. The commander must have certainty about this. He asks Paul if he is a Roman. Paul confirms that question with a brief and concise “yes”. He does not elaborate on what that means. What matters to him is only to point out that something is happening that is contrary to the right that Rome claims to uphold.

The commander looks at Paul with suspicion. Anyone can say that he is a Roman. He himself bought that civil right for a lot of money, because Roman civil right gave a lot of advantages. Where would this little man have gotten that money from? Paul, however, by being born in Tarsus, automatically had that civil right.

Paul’s appeal to his Roman civil right directly freed him from the threat of flogging, but the commander still wants to know where he stands with Paul. He releases Paul and orders the chief priests and all the Council to assemble. The commander places Paul before the Council, not because that is a court of law, but to find out from the confrontation between the two parties what it is all about.

This shows the power of the Romans over the religious system of the Jews. It also shows the extent of slavery to the nations in which God’s people ended up because of their sins. It shows again how blinded the people are and how presumptuous it is to get excited about the fact that God’s salvation goes out to the Gentiles.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 22". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/acts-22.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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