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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 23

 

 

Verses 1-35

In this hearing the chief captain did not take the place of an adjudicator, nor was there any other judicial authority present to keep order. Paul then takes advantage of the occasion to speak earnestly to the council, to tell them he had lived in all good conscience before God until that day. No doubt this was true, but he was on the defensive rather than bearing witness to the Lord Jesus.

Neither the high priest nor the council had anything to say in regard to a concrete accusation against him. But the high priest commanded others to strike Paul on the mouth. This was so blatantly unjust that Paul did not restrain himself from speaking unadvisedly with his lips, calling the high priest a whited wall and telling him that God would smite him. Otherwise his words were most telling, "sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?"

Challenged for having spoken as he did to "God's high priest," he had to withdraw his words, saying he had not known the man was high priest, for the law had said, "Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." It can hardly be honestly said that Ananias was God's high priest, for he had been appointed by the Romans. Yet, Paul recognized his place of rule.

Paul however did not wait passively for any charges to be brought, but seeing that both Pharisees and Sadducees were present, he made the bold assertion, "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." No doubt this was an astute move, for it achieved the result Paul desired of causing division among his enemies, for the doctrine of resurrection was one as to which Pharisees and Sadducees opposed each other. Of course Paul still fully believed as the Pharisees did in regard to resurrection: in fact he went further than they, for he knew Christ as raised from among the dead. Actually, while he had been raised a Pharisee, yet he was no longer of the sect of the Pharisees: he was a Christian.

The Pharisees were influenced by his words to relax their enmity, while the Sadducees were all the more determined in their opposition, being resentful even of the suggestion of an angel or spirit speaking to Paul, for they denied their existence. Paul then became the center of conflict between them, and the chief captain had to command his soldiers to rescue him from the violence of their contention.

The night following Paul's imprisonment it seems likely that he was feeling discouraged. Did he not reflect on the fact that he had come to Jerusalem in spite of God's warning him not to, the resulting refusal of the Jews to listen to him, then his mistake in the way he answered the high priest, and finally his calling himself a Pharisee rather than bearing witness of Christ? All this stemmed from his coming to a place God had not sent him. How he needed the merciful help of his Lord now! Wonderful is the grace of the heart of the Lord Jesus in His standing by Paul that night, to encourage him: "Be of good cheer, Paul." He credits him too with having borne witness to Him in Jerusalem, as he did from the stairs of the castle, and tells him he will do so in Rome also. This did not take place for over two years, however (ch.24:27). The Lord will not forsake His servant, whatever may be the sadness of his failure which was mixed with his fervent devotedness to his Master.

The hostility of the Jews had now been stirred to a fever pitch. Likely it was men of the Sadducees who bound themselves under a curse to eat nothing till they had killed Paul. But the Lord had settled that matter before: He had told Paul he would bear witness of Him at Rome! In spite of the curse, one is doubtful that those men (over forty of them) died of starvation! But their terroristic plan did not work. It was a bold plot to take the chief captain off guard, having him in good faith bring Paul to the Jewish council again as though they desired to enquire more perfectly of him, they being ready to kill him on the way. Their murdering him at the time he was a prisoner of the Roman guard would be a most serious criminal offence, but they evidently thought that their large number could accomplish it and escape the consequences.

The Lord had His own way of thwarting this. Whatever attitude Paul's sister had toward him, at least her son had right feelings when he heard of this plot, for of course many of the Jews would know of it. He visited Paul in the prison and warned him of it. This led to the chief captain's learning of it from the young man, who was warned to keep completely silent about his having disclosed this.

The chief captain wisely decided, as God had decided long before, that Jerusalem was no place for Paul. He had come there of his own volition, but was to be carried out as a prisoner -- not to die there, as he had expressed himself willing to (Ch.21:13). It seems astonishing that the chief captain ordered so large a guard for Paul in sending him to Caesarea, -- two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen. This was a virtual army prepared to leave at the third hour of the night (9.00 p.m.). Such activity would certainly awaken the attention of the people, though they may have remained ignorant of the reason for it.

Paul had come from Caesarea on foot, but has the honor of riding back, willingly or not. The chief captain, Claudius Lysias, sent with the company a letter to Felix the governor, explaining the reason for his sending Paul. He knew the Jews had been on the verge of killing Paul, not taking him to be judged by their law, as Tertullus later stated (Ch.24:6). It had required an army to rescue him. When later he says he brought Paul face to face with the Jewish council, he perceived that their only accusation had to do with the Jewish religious law, but of no such importance as to call for a sentence of death or even of imprisonment.

Yet he adds that he had heard the Jews were plotting to kill Paul while in custody, and therefore was sending Paul to Felix, while telling his accusers that they could go to Caesarea also to accuse Paul before Felix.

The soldiers went as far as Antipatris, not so far distant from Caesarea, then left the horsemen to take Paul to Caesarea, while they returned to Jerusalem. The horsemen in due course delivered Paul to Felix along with the letter from Lysias. Paul was then kept in Herod's judgment hall until his accusers should come to face him at the court of Felix. Thus the project was completed without the knowledge of the men who had plotted Paul's death, and they would have an unwelcome surprise in hearing that their enemy was no longer in Jerusalem.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 23:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-23.html. 1897-1910.

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