Bible Topics In The Christian Library

Acts 23:1-5- "Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." {2} And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. {3} Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?" {4} And those who stood by said, "Do you revile God's high priest?" {5} Then Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'""

A. A few comments about the Sanhedrin.
1. The highest Jewish council in the first century. The council had 71 members and was presided over by the high priest. The Sanhedrin included both of the main Jewish parties among its membership. Since the high priest presided, the Sadducean priestly party seems to have predominated; but some leading Pharisees also were members (Acts 5:34; 23:1-9).
2. According to Jewish tradition, the Sanhedrin began with the 70 elders appointed by Moses in Numbers 11:16 and was reorganized by Ezra after the Exile. However, the Old Testament provides no evidence of a council that functioned like the Sanhedrin of later times. Thus, the Sanhedrin had its origin sometime during the centuries between the Testaments.
B. Paul would have to use his wits to escape the same fate as Jesus, Stephen, and James.
1. He clearly declared his innocence- "I have lived in good conscience before God until this day."
2. His conscience was clear before God concerning his actions as a Christian.
C. The High Priest's rash action and Paul's reaction.
1. It is very clear that the High Priest, who served as president of the Sanhedrin, would not be impartial in Paul's case. He became so angry that he commanded that one of the persons standing next to Paul strike him on the mouth for having the "insolence" to declare himself innocent.
2. Paul's reacted with expected anger. "Whitewashed wall" hearkens back to Jesus statement that the leaders were hypocrite who pretended to be righteous on the outside but were really rotten inside. See Matthew 23:27-28. He also said that God would strike him down for his violation of the Law concerning his trial.
3. It is likely that Paul had reference to Leviticus 19:35, "'You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume." This emphasized that those who passed judgement should be fair and honest in their dealings. It is clear that intimidation of those being judged would violate the spirit, if not the exact letter, of this passage.
D. Some speculate as to why Paul did not recognize the High Priest.
1. The High Priesthood was being passed around every year or two (This was a tactic of the Romans to reward loyalty and to keep any one man from being too strong). It is possible that Paul did not know exactly who the High Priest was.
2. Perhaps he was so shocked by what he said that he assumed that this could not be the High Priest.
3. At least one commentator speculates that Paul's eyesight was bad, thus under certain circumstances Paul would not immediately recognize the High Priests. We are sure that Paul had some problems in this area. See also Galatians 6:11.
4. In any event Paul was not apologetic, not wanting to violate God's law in any way. See Deuteronomy 17:8ff. Paul always showed a general respect for legal authority. See Romans 13:1ff.
Acts 23:6-10- "But when Paul perceived that 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; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!" {7} And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. {8} For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection; and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. {9} Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees' party arose and protested, saying, "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God." {10} Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks."
A. "But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees..."
1. Paul decided he would need to use his wits. He decided to divide his enemies against each other.
2. There was several distinctive difference between the groups.
a. The Pharisees believed in life after death, while the Sadducees did not.
b. The Pharisees believed in angels and demons while the Sadducees denied their existence.
c. Most important of all, the Pharisees believed in the principle of the resurrection of the dead, while the Sadducees denied it.
B. "Concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!"
1. Paul knew that this would have the desired effect.
2. It would split the Sanhedrin and cause dissension. As long as Paul was being judged as being a rebel or general troublemaker the Sanhedrin would be united. But he claimed it was because he was persecuted for his believe in good Pharisee doctrine, it would stir the Pharisees to come to his aid.
C. "And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided."
1. No doubt many of the Sadducees cried out that Paul was guilty, while the Pharisees were quick to come to his aid.
2. Luke explains for his readers what we have already stated, that there was a division of belief between the Pharisee and Sadducees on supernatural things.
3. The word "protested" in verse nine carries with it the idea of, "to fight fiercely, as in an altercation." It would not be the first time a legal proceeding degenerated into a fistfight.
D. "Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them..."
1. Paul had perhaps hoped that this ploy might gain his freedom. But at the very least it had the effect of a reprieved from such a group of biased judges.
2. Paul was a Roman citizen. The commander had personal responsibility over Paul safety. If Paul had been injured or killed it would have been his responsibility.
3. The Roman commanded decided to act quickly. He ordered his troops to personally intervene to extract Paul from this dangerous situation and bring him to safety.
Acts 23:11- "But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome."
A. "But the following night the Lord stood by him and said"
1. It seems that Paul received special comfort and strength from the Lord himself on occasion, due to the great relative importance, danger, and stress of his mission.
2. Paul has already described how the Lord appeared to him earlier. We have no reason to not believe that the Lord appeared to him on occasions that Paul did not mention. We know that Paul was taken up into the "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2f).
B. "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome."
1. We can infer that Paul was quite understandably troubled by the events of that past few hours. He was possibly worried for his own safety, or perhaps worried that he would not be able to go to Rome like he so earnestly desired. It is also possible that he might have questioned himself again concerning his wisdom in going to Jerusalem.
2. The Lord assured Paul that nothing was going to stand in his way of going to Rome to be a witness for him. Notice that the Lord did not promise to save Paul's life, or even give him more comfortable surroundings, but to make sure that Paul had the opportunity to be a witness for him in Rome.
The Plot To Kill Paul

Verses 12-15 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. {13} Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. {14} They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, "We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. {15} "Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near.""

A. "And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath..."
1. Such was the hatred on the part of some of the Jews toward Paul and the cause of Christ that they banded together to murder Paul.
2. Assassins were active in Paul's day in Judea. They would continue to stir up trouble by their terrorist tactics. They would assassinate Ananias, the corrupt and wicked high priest in Jerusalem who heard Paul's case.
3. This was more than just a couple of disgruntled men. There were forty involved in this plot.
B. "They came to the chief priests and elders, and said..."
1. This shows how wicked the leadership of the Jews was. These great defenders of the Law were quite willing to hear about and give encouragement for a wicked plot to commit murder.
2. They had taken an oath to not eat anything until they had killed Paul. The KJV seems to better catch the spirit of this passage when it translates here, "great curse." They likely called down Heaven to do the same thing to them that they were planning for Paul, if they failed.
3. The plot was simple and well conceived. They wanted the leaders to ask the Romans to bring Paul to meet with the full counsel, away from the relative safety of the Roman headquarters in the Tower of Antonia. Somewhere along the way they would ambush Paul and his escort and kill him.
Verses 16-22 "So when Paul's sister's son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. {17} Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, "Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him." {18} So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, "Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you." {19} Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside and asked privately, "What is it that you have to tell me?" {20} And he said, "The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. {21} "But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you." {22} So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, "Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me.""
A. "So when Paul's sister's son heard of their ambush..."
1. It's very difficult to keep such a thing a secret, seeing that it was told to the forty and repeated before the leadership of the Sanhedrin. It only takes one person to bring it to light.
2. We're not told how Paul's nephew heard of the plot, just that he did.
3. We are told precious little concerning Paul's family. Were they Christians? Was he estranged from them because of his faith in Christ? No one knows for sure. In any event, this young man felt the need to warn Paul concerning the impending attempt on his life.
B. "Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said..."
1. Paul immediately grasped the importance of the information that the young man brought. He knew that it would be much more convincing if the young man spoke personally to the commander, so he called for a centurion and requested that he be taken to him.
2. We can tell that the Romans had a great deal of respect for Paul, for they immediately did as he requested, taking the young man to Lysias, the Roman commander.
C. "Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside and asked privately..."
1. The taking by the hand is suggestive that the young man was a young child, although the text does not say for sure.
2. Lysias was taking no chances. Spies were everywhere. He took the young man off aside where no one by he and the young man could hear the conversation.
3. The plot was serious enough. Over 40 men had sworn to not eat anything until they had killed Paul. They Sanhedrin was part of the plot too, planning to ask for Paul to be taken to them for further questioning. Paul would have only a light guard for transport. It would be easy for such a large group of men to overpower the three or four Roman guards around Paul.
4. Lysias wanted no one to know that he was privy to the plot. He urged the young man to tell no one of their conversation.
Acts 23:23-35- "And he called for two centurions, saying, "Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; {24} "and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor." {25} He wrote a letter in the following manner: {26} Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings. {27} This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. {28} And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council. {29} I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains. {30} And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him. Farewell.
A. "And he called for two centurions, saying..."
1. Lysias decided to acts quickly and decisively. He would send Paul away, transferring him to Caesarea.
2. The escort would be large enough to discourage any attempt at assassination, even by 40 men. It would consist of 470 troops, among them 200 legionaries.
3. They would also leave in the middle of the evening, at 9:00 p.m.
B. Paul would be sent to Felix, the procurator of Judea.
1. The procurator of Judea at the time Paul the apostle visited Jerusalem for the last time and was arrested there (Acts 23:24). Antonius Felix became procurator of Judea in A.D. 52, succeeding Cumanus. He remained in office until A.D. 60, when the emperor Nero recalled him. He is depicted in Acts as a man who listened with interest to Paul's defense but failed to make any decision with regard to the case or with regard to the personal implications of Paul's message. Rather he hoped Paul would pay him a bribe (Acts 24:26). Contemporary historians Tacitus and Josephus paint Felix as a brutal, incompetent politician who was finally replaced. One writer said of him, "With savagery and lust, he exercised the powers of a king with the disposition of a slave."
2. Lysias briefly stated the facts. Paul was not under arrest, but under protective custody. The Jews had brought certain charges against them, concerning the Law of Moses. He had transferred Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea for his safety, and had instructed Paul's accusers to appear before Felix. 
Verses 31-35 "Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. {32} The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks. {33} When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. {34} And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia, {35} he said, "I will hear you when your accusers also have come." And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's Praetorium."
A. "Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris"
1. Paul and the soldiers arrived the next evening at Antipas. Antipas was a town a little over half way between Jerusalem and Caesarea. It was about 40 miles from Jerusalem and 26 miles south of Caesarea.
2. The 200 legionaries went back to their barracks in Jerusalem, satisfied that there would be no one following them capable to successfully attacking the remaining troops.
3. H. Leo Boles makes the observation that the arrival of Paul under such a guard must have impressed the Caesarian Christians as to the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Paul's arrest and imprisonment. God's word will always come true.
B. Felix's actions.
1. He first inquired to make sure that Paul was not in his jurisdiction. Having done that he could confidently devise some way to turn the situation to his advantage.
2. We can tell the Roman's attitude toward Paul. He was housed in Herod's old palace, not a dungeon or jail. Here he would remain for about 2 years. 
Copyright 1999 by Grady Scott may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

Top of Page