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Bible Commentaries
Acts 23

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-5

The Hearing in the Presence of the Sanhedrin.

Paul rebukes the high priest:

v. 1. And Paul, earnestly beholding the Council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

v. 2. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.

v. 3. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall; for sittest thou to judge me after the Law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the Law?

v. 4. And they that stood by said, Revelation lest thou God's high priest?

v. 5. Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

The hearing had been opened by the Roman tribune, Lysias. The members of the Sanhedrin were sitting or standing around in a semicircle, with Paul facing them, and the commander with the guard nearby. The Jewish rulers had been summoned by the Roman chiliarch to give testimony, to bring their charges against Paul. This fact makes the entire situation clear. "When we consider the circumstances, it is clear that this was not a formal meeting of the Council of the nation; it was an assemblage of leading men hastily summoned as advisers by the Roman officer in command at Jerusalem. The officer was in authority; he was the one man that could judge and give a decision; the rest were only his assessors. By no means could a proper meeting of the Council be called in the way followed on this occasion. " Paul was not present as under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, but as a Roman citizen in charge of the Roman commander of Jerusalem. This is evident also from his entire behavior. For, instead of waiting for the Jews to open the meeting, he looked round upon them with his characteristic steadfast, undaunted gaze, and then calmly invited their charges by stating, with evident composure, that in all good conscience he had comported himself before God until this day. Note that he addresses them as brethren, thus placing himself on a level with them. And he calmly asserts his innocence of any wrongdoing in the sense which the Jews urged, for he uses a word which literally means that he has done his full duty as a citizen of the commonwealth of God, and that he has respected and observed its laws. But Paul's statement roused the fiercest resentment of the high priest, Ananias by name. This Ananias was not the high priest of the gospels, but had been appointed to the office by Herod of Chalcis. He was sent to Rome as a prisoner by Quadratus, governor of Syria, on account of a quarrel with the Samaritans; but he won his case and returned to Jerusalem. Forgetting that he was not the chairman of this meeting, and that Paul was not under his jurisdiction, he called out to those that stood near the accused to strike him on the mouth, thus signifying that he believed Paul to be uttering base falsehood. Paul's rebuke was prompt and to the point. He called him a whitewashed wall, as Christ had called the Pharisees whited sepulchers, Matthew 23:27. The coat of whitewash was intended to cover the flimsiness and the filth beneath. He had bidden Paul to be struck: God would strike him for his hypocritical behavior; for there he was sitting as one of the judges according to the Law, and against that Law he commanded Paul to be struck, Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 25:1-2. The Lord did punish this high priest in a terrible way, for a few years later he perished in a tumult raised by his own son. The bystanders, shocked by the words of Paul, asked whether he would thus revile the high priest of God, that is, God's representative, while he was performing the duties of his ministry, Deuteronomy 17:12. Paul's answer may be taken as an excuse, or apology. Ananias was present merely as a member of the Sanhedrin; he neither occupied the president's chair, nor did he wear the robes characteristic of his office; and Paul did not know him personally. He therefore may have intended to acknowledge that his conduct, so far as the Revelation ling was concerned, was not in agreement with Exodus 22:28. Luther believes with Augustine that the reply of Paul was biting irony and mockery. It is perfectly right and justifiable, if Christians criticize and rebuke the sins of the government, but this must always be done with due respect.

Verses 6-9

A division among the members of the Sanhedrin:

v. 6. But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the Council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

v. 7. and when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the multitude was divided.

v. 8. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.

v. 9. And there arose a great cry; and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose and strove, saying, we find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

Paul had come down to the meeting in the hope that there would be a real hearing. He had attempted a calm defense, which had been rudely interrupted by an unwarranted interference of the high priest. Since neither a fair inquiry nor a just decision was to be expected in the presence of such prejudiced fanatics, he now adopted a different method. Knowing that a part of the Sanhedrin, the smaller portion, consisted of Sadducees, and the other of Pharisees, he called out before them all that he was a Pharisee and a son or disciple of Pharisees. This statement was not a petty trick or malicious deception, as some have thought. Everyone in the assembly knew that he was a Christian; his assertion was therefore understood by them as it should be understood by us, that he had been a member of that sect and still agreed with them, as many other former Pharisees did, in certain doctrines. It was concerning one of these that he was now on trial, namely, that of the hope and the reality of the resurrection of the dead. This was literally true, and cannot be regarded as a subterfuge; for the fundamental doctrine of the Gospel, as preached by Paul, was the fact that Christ had risen from the dead, and that because of His resurrection all believers were sure of their own rising unto eternal life. No sooner had Paul said this than there was a controversy, a dissension, a contention of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Before this the body of the Sanhedrin, the entire mass, had been united against Paul, but now they were divided into two parties, into the two factions which were usually at enmity with each other on account of their different doctrinal positions. For, as Luke here inserts by way of explanation, the Sadducees are in the habit of saying that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit. Their position was one of negation, of denial. But the Pharisees confessed and believed in both the resurrection of the dead and the existence of spirits. The uproar over the matter increased with every moment, finally becoming violent. It was the custom in the debates of the Jews to walk over to the side of him whose cause one espoused, thus incidentally recording one's vote. And so here some of the scribes among the Pharisees openly took Paul's part, going over and standing near him, and contending forcibly, arguing very vehemently in his favor. They maintained that they found nothing evil in the accused, and what if a spirit had spoken with him or an angel, as he had stated on the previous day? -that was no reason why the man should be condemned. Thus the Jewish rulers were in a worse predicament than ever. The commander's purpose in calling the meeting was to have the Jews show cause why they had clamored for the death of Paul, and here they sat, not only without any accusation that would have had any weight in the eyes of the Romans, but actually engaged in a bitter controversy among themselves. Thus the dissension of the unbelievers has often redounded to the liberty or to some other benefit of the believers. That is one of the ways in which God keeps and protects His Church in the midst of this evil world, that He creates dissension in the midst of its enemies.

Verses 10-11

Paul reassured by the Lord:

v. 10. And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.

v. 11. And the night following the Lord stood by him and said, be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.

As the uproar of the Jews concerning Paul became greater and more violent with every minute, the chiliarch, more of an interested spectator of the scene than an active participant, became apprehensive, began to fear that Paul would actually be torn to pieces by them. Those that took his part held him in order to protect him, others laid violent hands upon him to jerk him away, and thus he was dragged to and fro. Lysias therefore gave command by an orderly that the body of soldiers which was always in readiness should march down to the Temple area from the level of Antonia and tear the prisoner out of their midst, and then lead him to the barracks. So Lysias was once more disappointed in his attempts to find out the facts in Paul's case; but he must certainly have concluded that the Jews had no charge of a political nature against him which they could or would formulate. But at this point the Lord came to the assistance of His servant. In the night following the arraignment before the Sanhedrin the Lord Himself, in a vision, stood by or over him as he slept, and reassured him, telling him that just as he had borne confident witness of the facts concerning Him in Jerusalem, had preached the Gospel of His grace openly and fearlessly, so it would be necessary for him, according to God's will, to bear witness also in Rome. Paul had planned to visit Rome at the first opportunity; he had written the Christians of Rome an epistle containing a full exposition of Christian doctrine; and he would yet see the city, though probably not as he had planned. The fortunes of the Church are in the hands of the exalted Christ. He it is that is near to His faithful confessors on earth at all times, who strengthens and confirms them and directs the course of the Gospel according to His mill.

Verses 12-15

The Plot of the Jews.

The murderous design of the Jews:

v. 12. And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.

v. 13. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.

v. 14. And they came to the chief priests and elders and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.

v. 15. Now, therefore, ye with the Council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you tomorrow as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him; and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.

It is not difficult to imagine what happened in the assembly of the Jews after Paul had been torn from them by the Roman soldiers, how they blamed and cursed one another for their foolishness in letting their intended victim escape, how they vowed to find some way of removing the hated preacher of Christ at the first opportunity. And this chance apparently offered soon. For on the following day the Jews, a certain number of them that were exceptionally violent in the expression of their hatred against Paul, formed a conspiracy, by solemnly binding one another with an oath of execration, placing themselves under an anathema, making themselves liable to the most terrible punishments of God in case they either ate or drank before they had killed Paul. These forty odd Jews that thus became guilty of an almost unbelievably blasphemous use of the name of God very likely belonged to that class of fierce zealots known as assassins, who shrank back from no crime in the interest of what they believed to be true orthodoxy. Evidently they felt pretty sure of their ground, for they did not hesitate to come to the chief priests and the elders and lay their plan before them, not officially, perhaps, but with the full expectation of unofficial recognition and approval. They frankly told them that they had bound themselves under a great curse to partake of no food until they had killed Paul. But they needed the cooperation of the chief priests in carrying out their murderous plan, their suggestion being, briefly, that the Jewish rulers should intimate to the Roman tribune that they had the intention, with the entire Synedrion, of making a more exact examination of Paul's case, as though they would want to judge of his matter more accurately. For this reason the tribune should lead the prisoner down to them. And the assassins were ready, they were fully prepared, to murder Paul on the way, before ever he would come near to the place of the assembly, in order that no suspicion would attach to the members of the Sanhedrin as to complicity in the crime. It was truly a devilish scheme, apparently destined to be successful. Thus the hatred of the world against the confessors of Christ to this day will not hesitate to make use of extreme measures, of blasphemous oaths and plots and murders, to hinder the course of the Gospel.

Verses 16-22

The plot Revealed:

v. 16. And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle and told Paul.

v. 17. Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain; for he hath a certain thing to tell him.

v. 18. So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul, the prisoner, called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.

v. 19. Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?

v. 20. And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul tomorrow into the Council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly.

v. 21. But do not thou yield unto them; for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.

v. 22. So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast showed these things to me.

We have here the first and only direct reference to the family to which Paul belonged, his sister's son, his nephew, being introduced into the story. Whether Paul's sister lived in Jerusalem, or whether the young man had come up for the festival of Pentecost, cannot be determined. In some way this young man heard of the plot, received the full information concerning the scheme of the Jews, their ambush. His hurry is apparent from the text, for he suddenly appeared at Antonia, came in upon them, and entered into the barracks. Evidently Paul's friends were allowed to visit him, and therefore no one objected to the young man's going to him. So he announced, related, to Paul the entire story. Paul realized at once that the plot could be foiled only by observing the utmost secrecy, that lack of proper caution might precipitate serious crisis. So he called one of the centurions to him and requested him to lead the young man to the commander, since he had an announcement to make to him, had some news to tell him. Accordingly, the centurion had the young man accompany him to the chiliarch, where he introduced him with the remark that Paul, the prisoner, had called him and asked him to lead this young man to him, since he had something to tell him. The chiliarch felt at once that there must be something unusual in the air, and therefore he, with fine tact and with a reassuring gesture, took the young man by the hand and led him aside and asked him: What is the news that you have for me? This treatment gave the informant the necessary confidence, and he quickly told his story, adding such touches as reveal his deep interest. The Jews had taken counsel together, made the plan, to ask the commander of the garrison that he bring Paul down to the Synedrion, as though he wanted to examine his case more exactly, look into it with greater care than on the previous day. And here the excitement gets the better of the narrator, and he earnestly urges the chiliarch not to trust them, since more than forty of the Jews were lying in ambush, all of them having bound themselves under a dreadful curse neither to eat nor to drink till they had put Paul out of the way, until they had killed him. And even now they were ready, awaiting only the promise of the Roman tribune. This would be their signal to prepare for the murderous assault. In this way did the Lord, and in the same manner does He now, frustrate the evil designs of the enemies of the Church and of His servants. Without His permission not a hair of their head may fall to the ground. With a warning as to the necessity of the strictest secrecy Lysias dismissed the young man.

Verses 23-30

Paul Brought to Caesarea.

The preparations for the journey:

v. 23. And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen three score and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;

v. 24. and provide them beasts that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix, the governor.

v. 25. And he wrote a letter after this manner:

v. 26. Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent Governor Felix sendeth greeting.

v. 27. This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them; then came I with an army and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

v. 28. And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council;

v. 29. whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.

v. 30. And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.

It is to the credit of Lysias that he chose the course which both justice and prudence dictated. By ignoring the information received he might have become an accomplice in the murder of Paul. By slaying the assassins as they were making their assault, he would have made the Jews his bitter enemies. But he acted quickly and prudently. He summoned two of the centurions in his command and ordered them to make ready for a march to Caesarea, have in readiness to march, about nine o'clock in the evening, two hundred men infantry, heavily armed soldiers, and seventy cavalry, and two hundred light-armed soldiers, javelin-throwers or lance-bearers. Saddle-animals were also to be provided, in order that they might set Paul on one of them, with a change, if necessary, and lead him safely down to Felix, the governor, who resided at Caesarea, the political capital of the province. If Lysias had only one thousand men in his command at Jerusalem, 760 infantry and 240 cavalry, he reduced his force considerably in order to provide a safe escort to Paul, but the gravity of the situation was fully appreciated by him, and he took his measures accordingly. He also wrote a letter to the governor as to the man higher in rank and the highest court in the province. This letter is interesting because colored by the understanding of Lysias, and because it naturally aims to place his own conduct in the most favorable light. Luke gives a summary of this letter. It opens with the usual complimentary, introductory greeting of the writer to the addressee. Lysias says of Paul, whom he mentions with respect, that he had been taken, laid hold on, by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, when he, appearing seemingly just in time with the soldiers under his command, had taken him away and thus rescued him. Here the fact that Lysias refers to the army would naturally imply that it took all the soldiers of the garrison to quell the disturbance, and would impress the governor with his circumspection. The same is true of the statement that he had done so after having learned that Paul was a Roman citizen. Here also the tribune, for the sake of emphasizing his zeal in the public service, strains the truth, for he found out only after the rescue that Paul was a Roman. The writer then continues to tell how he had earnestly wanted to find out the reason why they were accusing him, and had taken him into a meeting of their Synedrion. There he had found out only so much that he was accused concerning certain demands of the Jews' law, but that he had committed no crime which merited death or even imprisonment. In the meantime he had been informed that some of them were plotting against this man, to take his life, wherefore he had sent to the governor without delay (again emphasizing his zeal), incidentally announcing to the accusers that they must bring their matter before the governor. The entire letter shows that Lysias was making every effort to impress Felix favorably, for in the great game of politics one never can tell just how much a good impression may be worth, and advancement was always welcome. Christians will make the application of such stories by remembering the Lord's injunction to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, Matthew 10:16.

Verses 31-35

The journey and the arrival in Caesarea:

v. 31. Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.

v. 32. On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle;

v. 33. who, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.

v. 34. And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia,

v. 35. I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come, And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment-hall.

The start from Jerusalem was made by night, to attract as little attention as possible, and the armed escort was so strong that it could easily have warded off the attack of a band of assassins. The fact also that the soldiers left by the road to the north served to have them escape notice. Four miles to the north they marched, over the old road whose paving stones are still visible in places, and then turned to the east across the mountains of Ephraim and down into the beautiful plain of Sharon, where Antipatris was located. This was a forced march of fully thirty miles, and must have been a great strain to Paul. But they were now beyond all possible danger of an attack from Jerusalem. The four hundred men infantry therefore turned back at this point and returned to the barracks at the Tower of Antonia in Jerusalem, letting the troopers continue the journey with Paul. These men arrived in Caesarea in due time, delivered the letter to the governor, and presented Paul to him. The procurator read the letter and then asked Paul what kind of province he belonged to, imperial or senatorial, since he needed this information to complete the report of Lysias concerning the case. "A procurator of Judea, like Felix, was subordinate only to the governor of Syria, inasmuch as the latter could bring his supreme power to bear in casts of necessity. The military command and the independent jurisdiction of the procurator gave him practically sole power in all ordinary transactions, but the governor could take the superior command if he had reason to fear Revolutionary or other serious difficulties. " When Felix had found out that Paul hailed from Cilicia, and could thus enter the case properly, he promised him a judicial hearing as soon as his accusers would present themselves. In the meantime the governor gave command that Paul should be kept in the praetorium of Herod, the palace which Herod Agrippa I had erected there, chap. 12:19, and which contained also a guard-room, where Paul might be confined. Note: We find Paul here once more under the protection of the Roman government For that reason the government has been ordained of God, to protect peaceful citizens, and therefore also the Christians, against sedition and violence. And thus the Lord holds His protecting hand over them that are His. Unless He permits it for reasons of His own, the raving and raging of all the enemies can bring no harm to His Church.

Summary. Paul is arraigned before the Roman tribunal in the presence of the Sanhedrin, and is made the object of a murderous plot of the Jews, upon whose exposure he is sent to Felix, the governor, by Lysias, the Roman tribune at Jerusalem.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Acts 23". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/acts-23.html. 1921-23.
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