Paul’s speech had infuriated the crowd. The commander hoped to examine Paul under scourging, only to find out that Paul was a Roman citizen, who was protected under Roman law from being bound or scourged before being found guilty. On the next day, the commander had Paul stand before the Jewish council to find out the reason for the Jews’ accusations. He would soon discover that the accusations against Paul were not deserving of death or chains, but were only matters concerning the Jewish law.
Did You Know...?
1 Scourging (22:24): Scourging was commonly used to question a prisoner. The prisoner was stripped, tied to a post, and whipped. While whipping a prisoner, a Roman soldier was restricted by nothing but his strength and whim. If whipped severely, the flesh was reduced to a bloody pulp.
2. “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman?” (22:25): Roman law guaranteed the citizens numerous rights and privileges, including immunity from scourging and crucifixion. The commander had broken the law and was subject to punishment when he ordered that Paul be flogged (a fact the commander later conveniently forgot to mention in his letter to Felix [cf. 23:27]). [ref]
3. “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship” (22:28): Roman citizenship was granted only by birth or by reward; it could not be bought for a fee, but for a bribe. The commander was probably implying, “How can someone as sorry-looking as you afford the price for citizenship?” [ref]
4. “I was born a citizen” (22:28): A verbal claim to Roman citizenship was accepted at face value; there were stiff penalties (including death) for making a false claim of citizenship. Paul was a rare individual, to be an educated, intelligent, and devout Jew who was also a Roman citizen by birth. [ref]
5. Sanhedrin (22:30): The 71-member Jewish high court, which originated from the council of Moses and the 70 elders (cf. Num 11:16-17). It was composed of chief priests, elders, and scribes, and was headed by the high priest. The Sanhedrin was given much authority in religious and civil affairs. [ref]
6. Ananias (23:2): Not to be confused with other men of the same name (such as in 5:1-5 and 9:10-17). He was the high priest at the time. A Sadducee, he was wealthy, arrogant, unscrupulous, filling his sacred office for selfish and political ends. Later, he traveled to Caesarea to accuse Paul before Felix (cf. 24:1). Shortly after Felix left the province, Ananias was deposed. He was later assassinated.
7. “Whitewashed wall” (23:3): Paul’s rebuke is similar to that of Jesus’ against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27.
8. “I did not know that he was the high priest” (23:5): This remark has greatly puzzled biblical scholars, because the high priest was easily identified by his position and official seat as president of the Sanhedrin. Some take the words as ironic (“I didn’t think that anyone who acted in such a manner could be the high priest!”) Others assume that due to Paul’s poor eyesight he did not know who had ordered him to be struck. Perhaps Paul was indeed apologizing for his outburst (“For a moment, I did not bear in mind that I was addressing the high priest.”) [ref]
9. Sadducees (23:6): A Jewish political party composed of mostly priests and the upper class who generally cooperated with the Roman authorities. Though smaller and less popular than the Pharisees (cf. Did You Know #10), they occupied influential positions on the Sanhedrin. Because they accepted the authority of only the five books of Moses, they rejected the Pharisees’ oral traditions as well as the doctrines of the resurrection, future judgment, and angels and spirits. [ref]
10. Pharisees (23:6): Literally, “Separated Ones.” They were teachers in the synagogues, religious examples in the eyes of the people, and self-appointed guardians of the law and its proper observance. They considered the interpretations and regulations handed down by tradition to be virtually as authoritative as the Scripture. [ref]
How were Paul’s experience in this passage similar/different to those of Jesus (cf. Mt 26:59-67)?Hide Answer
Both Paul and Jesus were being judged for preaching the gospel, having been sent by God. Both caused an uproar in the council by making a simple but true declaration (when Jesus proclaimed that he is the Christ [Mt 26:64], and when Paul spoke of his hope in the resurrection [Acts 23:6]). Jesus was forsaken by everyone. The members of the Sanhedrin were united in their condemnation of Jesus. He died on the cross alone. In contrast, God sent help to Paul because it was not yet time for him to be martyred for the gospel. The Pharisees accepted Paul due to their shared background and beliefs. The Roman commander performed his duties and protected Paul from harm.
Give examples of God’s law that you obey without a second thought (like the Roman soldiers who obeyed their laws). Give examples of God’s law that you have trouble obeying (like the religious leaders who violated their laws for personal gain).
Why did the crowd reject Paul’s words?Hide Answer
The crowd rioted when Paul said that God had sent him to the Gentiles. They were offended that that the gospel was also given to the Gentiles; it implied that the Jews were not the only chosen people.
Today, how might we have similar attitudes?Hide Answer
Many people today are offended that God saves the “good people” and “sinners” alike; they judge whether or not another person can be saved. However, no one deserves to be saved, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We are saved by God’s mercy, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Why was the Roman commander puzzled at why the crowd was shouting at Paul?Hide Answer
It must have been a strange sight to the commander to see Paul addressing this huge crowd in a foreign language (Hebrew/Aramaic) and the crowd in attention, when suddenly, they erupt into a riot. When it was explained to him, he must have thought it absurd. The commander was unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Christian beliefs. He considered that it had to do with Jewish law (cf. 23:29), which to him was a local problem.
What does verse 29 tell you about respect of the law in the Roman Empire?Hide Answer
Clearly, the law carried weight in the land. The soldiers responded swiftly when they discovered that they had violated the civil rights of a Roman citizen (Paul): “Immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.” Perhaps they were trained to obey the law, or they were afraid that they would be punished for their mistake.
With respect to the law, how were the Roman soldiers better than the members of the Sanhedrin?Hide Answer
The Roman soldiers obeyed the law, while the members of the Sanhedrin violated the law, which they claimed to uphold. In spite of Jesus’ harsh warning, (cf. Mt 23:2-36; Mk 12:38-40), the high priest, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees continued to be hypocrites. Like Paul said, “You sit to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law” (23:3).
What are your rights and privileges as a citizen of heaven?
What are your duties as a citizen of heaven?
What does it mean to live in all good conscience? Why is it important to do so “before God?”
Do you live in all good conscience before God?
Why did the high priest command that Paul be struck on the mouth?
In 23:5, why did Paul quote a law of Moses (cf. Ex 22:28)?Hide Answer
Paul was apologizing for unknowingly rebuking the high priest. At the same time, he might be implying that the high priest had done worse by deliberately violating the law by ordering that Paul be struck. More serious, the high priest and the whole Sanhedrin had committed a greater sin when they opposed the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were well versed in the Old Testament and Jesus’ message, but they stubbornly rejected the truth. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:26).
What was Paul trying to achieve when he said, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” (23:6)? What does this teach you about what to do in a difficult situation?Hide Answer
Jesus teaches us to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mt 10:16). He used the most effective method to address the issue. Paul was making an essentially true claim: he was a Pharisee, and he was preaching a resurrected Jesus. Framed in these terms, he immediately gained the Pharisees as allies, who took it upon themselves to argue it out with the Sadducees. The Pharisees said, “Let us not fight against God” (23:9), which echoes Gamaliel’s earlier advice to the Sanhedrin (cf. 5:38-39). However, Paul’s strategy might have worked too well; the argument between the Pharisees and the Sadducees became so fierce, that Paul was almost “pulled to pieces” (23:10).
Why do you think the Lord appear to Paul (11)?Hide Answer
Paul barely survived the persecution in the Sanhedrin. While in custody, perhaps he had lost a sense of direction, and was disappointed at how the gospel was rejected. Therefore, the Lord appeared to him to encourage him to “be of good cheer” and face the task ahead. Jesus affirmed Paul’s testimony about Him in Jerusalem. Furthermore, He gave Paul a clear direction of his task ahead (to “bear witness at Rome”), promising him that he would be freed from his current imprisonment. Paul might have been disappointed that his two public sermons in Jerusalem had ended in chaos, and now he was imprisoned.
When you preach the gospel and are rejected, how can you still “be of good cheer”?Hide Answer
The apostles rejoiced because they were “counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). In prison, Paul rejoiced and encouraged the members to do the same (Php 3:1, 4:4). “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1Pet 4:13-14).
How has Jesus Christ affirmed your work? How has He given you a sense of direction in your life?
Describe the Roman commander in your own words.Hide Answer
The commander must now be certain that these Jews are crazy in their endless and violent disputes. Previously, it was over the one word “Gentiles.” Now it was over the one word “resurrection.” Nevertheless he faithfully carried out his duties to keep the peace and to protect Paul from the Jews.
Has a non-Christian ever been a valuable help to you? What does this teach you about how God works through the kindness of others?Hide Answer
When we meet a non-Christian with a good heart, we must thank God for His mercy; in spite of the fact that sin had entered into the world, God put kindness into those who still do not know Him. The best way to show your gratitude to your benefactors is to bring them to Christ.