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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Acts 23

 

 

Verse 1

Evidently Paul intended to give his testimony again to the Sanhedrin. He addressed this body using the formal address common among Jews (lit. "Men brothers," Gr. Andres adelphoi). He identified himself as a Jew since his loyalty to Judaism was in question.

Paul frequently claimed to have lived with a clear conscience before God (cf. Acts 20:18-21; Acts 20:26-27; Acts 24:16; Romans 15:19; Romans 15:23; Philippians 3:6; 2 Timothy 4:7). Paul referred to the conscience about23times in his epistles. Here this claim meant that he believed that nothing he had done, which he was about to relate, was contrary to the will of God contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. Specifically his Christian beliefs and conduct did not compromise his Jewish heritage.

"He was not, of course, claiming sinlessness, nor was he referring to the inner spiritual conflicts of Romans 7. The reference was to the externals of his life, and the blamelessness of his conduct as measured by the demands of the Law (cf. Philippians 3:4-6)." [Note: Kent, p168 , footnote19.]


Verse 2

Paul"s claim to uprightness so incensed Ananias that he ordered a soldier to strike Paul on the mouth. Probably Ananias, who was a Sadducee, had already made up his mind that Paul, who had been a Pharisee, was guilty. An officer of the high priest had also struck Jesus as he testified before the Sanhedrin (cf. John 18:20-23).

Ananias became high priest in A.D47. The Jewish high priesthood was a political appointment during Rome"s occupation of Palestine. Josephus painted Ananias as a despicable person. He seized for his own use tithes that should have gone to the ordinary priests and gave large bribes to Romans and Jews. The emperor summoned him to Rome on charges of being involved in a bloody battle between Jews and Samaritans, but he escaped punishment. He was very wealthy and resorted to violence and even assassination to accomplish his ends. He was also very Proverbs -Roman, and the Jews finally assassinated him in their uprising against Rome in A.D66 , nine years after Paul stood before him. [Note: Josephus, The Wars . . ., 2:12:6; 2:17:6 , 9; Antiquities of . . ., 20:5:2; 20:6:2; 20:9:2 , 4. Cf. Wiersbe, 1:494.]


Verse 3

Jewish law considered a person innocent until proved guilty, but Ananias had punished Paul before he had been charged much less tried and found guilty. Paul reacted indignantly and uttered a prophecy of Ananias" judgment that God fulfilled later. A whitewashed wall is one that was frequently inferior on the inside but looked good outwardly (cf. Ezekiel 13:10-16; Matthew 23:27). Paul"s reaction was extreme, but as he proceeded to explain, it resulted from misunderstanding.


Verse 4-5

Paul may not have known that the person who commanded the soldier to strike him was the high priest for any number of reasons. Paul had not been in Jerusalem for an extended visit for over20 years and may not have been able to recognize the current high priest by sight. Perhaps Ananias was not wearing his high priestly robes since this was not a regular meeting of the Sanhedrin. [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p531.] Perhaps Paul was looking in another direction when Ananias gave the order to strike him. Perhaps Paul had poor eyesight. [Note: McGee, 4:614.] However this seems less likely in view of Acts 23:1. The passage to which some commentators appeal to argue that Paul had deficient eyesight ( Galatians 4:13-15) does not really say that. Another possibility is that Paul was speaking in irony: ""I did not think that a man who would give such an order could be the high priest."" [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p364; Neil, p228.] Some interpreters believe that Paul simply lost his temper. [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., p537.] Others believe he was apologizing. [Note: Kent, p168.] Paul voiced similar passionate utterances on other occasions (cf. Galatians 2:11; Galatians 5:12; Philippians 3:2).

The high priest was a ruler of the Jews in a higher sense than was true of the rest of the Sanhedrin members. Paul"s quotation from Exodus 22:28 showed that he was in subjection to God"s revealed will that he was on trial for repudiating. Being subject to governmental authorities is a requirement under the New Covenant as it was under the Old (cf. Romans 13:1-7; et al.). Paul quoted the Old Covenant here for the benefit of the Jews who lived under it.


Verse 6

Paul recognized that he could not get a fair trial in a court that did not even observe the law it purported to defend, so he changed his tactics. He decided to divide the jury and began his defense again ("Men brethren"). This time he took the offensive.

The issue of the resurrection of the dead was fundamental in Paul"s case (cf. Acts 17:32). Israel"s national hope of deliverance by her Messiah rested on the resurrection of that Messiah as predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures. By raising the old controversy of whether resurrection is possible, Paul divided his accusers.

"Paul keeps coming back to the theme of hope and resurrection even when it no longer provokes disruption (cf. Acts 24:15; Acts 24:21; Acts 28:20), and it will be a central theme in Paul"s climactic defense speech before King Agrippa ( Acts 26:6-8; Acts 26:23). Paul is doing more than injecting a controversial subject into the Sanhedrin hearing. He is trying to change the entire issue of his trial, and he will persist in this effort in subsequent scenes. Therefore, the significance of Paul"s statement that he is on trial "concerning hope and resurrection of the dead" can be understood only by considering the development of this theme in later scenes." [Note: Tannehill, 2:287.]


Verse 7-8

Paul"s belief in the resurrection divided the Sanhedrin. The Sadducees denied the resurrection as well as the existence of (good) angels and (evil) spirits, but the Pharisees believed in these things. [Note: See my comments on4:1,5:34. See Bock, Acts , pp671-2 , for six views of what the Sadducees believed about angels, and Witherington, pp692-93 , for discussion of the view that both terms refer to deceased persons.]


Verse 9-10

The Pharisees sided with Paul, and the Sadducees opposed him. Their emotional dispute excluded any possibility of a serious examination of Paul"s conduct or even a clarification of the charges against him. The Pharisees likewise defended Paul"s claim to having received a vision on the Damascus road ( Acts 22:6-11) or in the temple ( Acts 22:17-21), but the Sadducees repudiated it. The Roman commander must have thrown up his hands in dismay. For a second time he could not discover what Paul had done and why so many Jews hated him. Pilate had a similar problem with Jesus ( John 18:28 to John 19:15). Claudius Lysias decided to take Paul into protective custody in the Fortress.


Verse 11

The Lord"s encouragement of Paul23:11

Paul was undoubtedly wondering how he would ever get out of the mess in which he found himself. At this critical moment, during the night of the next day (Gr. te epiouse nykti), the Lord appeared to him again (cf. Acts 9:4-6; Acts 16:9; Acts 18:9-10; Acts 22:17-21; Acts 27:23-24; Genesis 15:1). The Lord"s appearances to Paul all occurred at great crises in his life. He assured the apostle that he would bear witness in Rome as he had already done in Jerusalem ( Acts 1:8). This revelation is essential to Luke"s purpose in writing Acts , and it certainly must have given Paul confidence as the events that followed unfolded.

"When Jesus" witnesses were previously imprisoned, prison doors were wondrously opened for them ( Acts 5:17-21; Acts 12:1-11; Acts 16:23-26). That is no longer the case. The Lord"s reassurance must take the place of miraculously opening doors. The divine power that rescues from prison has become a powerful presence that enables the witness to endure an imprisonment that lasts for years." [Note: Tannehill, 2:292.]

"This assurance meant much to Paul during the delays and anxieties of the next two years, and goes far to account for the calm and dignified bearing which seemed to mark him out as a master of events rather than their victim." [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p455.]


Verses 12-15

Paul"s adversaries (cf. Acts 21:27-29) evidently agreed together not to taste food or drink again until Paul was dead (cf. John 16:2). Their plan was to have the chief priests and elders of Israel ask the Roman commander to return Paul to the Sanhedrin for further questioning. Assassins planned to kill him somewhere on the streets between the Fortress of Antonia and the hall of the Sanhedrin. These buildings were not far apart. They surely realized that Paul"s Roman guards might kill some of their number in the process.

"The oath was not so suicidal as it seems, since provision was made by the rabbis for releasing participants from the consequences of failure to carry out their purpose if external circumstances had made it impossible." [Note: Neil, p230.]


Verses 12-24

The Jews" plot to kill Paul23:12-24

This is the most detailed destription of a plot against Paul in Acts (cf. Acts 9:23-25; Acts 9:29-30; Acts 20:3).


Verse 16-17

We know nothing more about Paul"s sister than what Luke stated here. She may have lived in Jerusalem, Tarsus, or elsewhere. Obviously her Song of Solomon , Paul"s nephew, sided with his uncle rather than with the assassins. This is the only reference to Paul"s immediate family in the New Testament. Other writers used the Greek word neanian, translated "young man" ( Acts 23:17), of persons in their twenties and thirties as well as younger men (cf. Acts 7:58; Acts 20:9). However, Acts 23:19 suggests that he may have been younger than a teenager. Paul could receive visitors in the barracks where he was a prisoner since he was a Roman citizen in protective custody. He could also summon a centurion to do his bidding, which he did here.

"I find today that there is a group of super-pious folk, very sincere and very well-meaning, which tells me I should not go to a doctor concerning my cancer or other illnesses but that I should trust the Lord to heal me. Well, I certainly do trust the Lord; I have turned my case over to the Great Physician, and I believe He provides doctors. It would have been a simple thing for Paul to have told his nephew, "Thanks for telling me the news, but I"m trusting the Lord-so you can go back home." But we find here that Paul used the privileges of his Roman citizenship which were available to him. Obviously the Lord provides these means and He expects us to use them. This in no way means that we are not trusting Him. Rather, we are trusting God to use the methods and the means to accomplish His purpose." [Note: McGee, 4:616.]


Verses 18-22

The commander took the advice of Paul"s nephew seriously. He probably knew Ananias well enough to know that the high priest would go along with this assassination plot.


Verse 23-24

The commander also realized that Paul"s enemies in Jerusalem would stop at nothing to see him dead. As long as Paul was in Jerusalem there was a danger of rioting. Consequently Claudius prepared to send him to the Roman provincial capital with a heavy guard under cover of night. The number of soldiers may have been270 or470 depending on the meaning of dexiolaboi, "spearmen." This word may refer to foot soldiers or to led horses. [Note: Longenecker, "The Acts . . .," p535; Neil, p231.] The question is whether there were200 infantry and70 cavalry, plus200 spearmen or200 extra horses. The third hour of the night was9:00 p.m. This is the third time Paul left a city secretly at night (cf. Acts 9:25; Acts 17:10). Obviously Claudius Lysias did not want the assassination of a Roman citizen on his record, so he took precautions to protect Paul. Paul"s guards continued to treat him with the respect due a Roman citizen. The commander even provided horses for him to ride on.

"The size of the escort is not excessive, in view of the troubled times and Jewish fanaticism." [Note: Ibid.]


Verse 25

The commander had to send a copy of the background of Paul"s case along with Paul himself. Luke wrote that what follows in the text was substantially what the letter contained.


Verses 25-30

Lysias" letter to Felix23:25-30


Verse 26

This is the first mention of the commander"s name in Acts. His Greek name was Lysias, and when he purchased his Roman citizenship (cf. Acts 22:28) he must have also taken the Roman name of the emperor. Felix was the governor of the Roman province of Syria, which included Judea. Claudius Lysias addressed Felix politely (cf. Acts 1:1; Acts 24:2; Acts 26:25).


Verses 27-30

The commander put himself in the best light possible in view of the facts. He mentioned his "rescue" of Paul in the temple courtyard but did not say that he almost flogged Paul. New in this letter is the mention of Paul"s arrest by the Jews, evidently the Jewish temple police. Lysias wrote that he had rescued Paul because he knew that Paul was a Roman citizen, but the commander only learned of Paul"s Roman citizenship after he had arrested him ( Acts 21:34; Acts 22:26-27). Of particular importance is the notice that in Lysias" judgment Paul was not guilty of any crime (cf. John 18:38), but his case only involved disputes over Jewish theology (cf. Gallio in Acts 18:14-15). This was another judgment favoring not only Paul but Christianity by a Roman official that Luke carefully documented (cf. Acts 19:40; Acts 23:9; Acts 25:25; Acts 26:31-32). Every Roman magistrate before whom Paul appeared (Gallio, Lysias, Felix, and Festus) declared him innocent. Undoubtedly Claudius Lysias told the Jewish leaders to go to Caesarea after Paul had left Jerusalem.


Verse 31-32

Paul"s trip back to Caesarea23:31-32

The large contingent of Roman soldiers escorted Paul through the Judean hill country and the Shephelah (foothills) to the town of Antipatris about37 miles northwest of Jerusalem. The remaining28 miles to Caesarea lay over flatter terrain in an area that had a sparser Jewish population. Paul"s party travelled this area in daylight. The foot soldiers returned to Jerusalem from Antipatris, and the70 remaining cavalry soldiers escorted Paul the rest of the way to Caesarea.

Paul"s departure from Jerusalem was the first leg of his journey to Rome. God had used Paul as His witness in Jerusalem again and had preserved him to witness to the uttermost part of the earth.


Verse 33

3. Ministry in Caesarea23:33-26:32

Paul"s ministry in Caesarea was from prison. Luke devoted about three chapters to Paul"s ministry in Caesarea primarily to reemphasize the legality of Christianity as various Roman officials scrutinized it and to repeat major themes in Paul"s addresses.


Verse 33

The governor (procurator) of Judea at this time was Antonius Felix (A.D52-59). [Note: Cf. Bruce, "Chronological Questions ...," pp284-87; David W. J. Gill, "Acts and Roman Policy in Judaea," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol4: The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, pp21-25.] Pontius Pilate occupied this office from A.D26-36. Felix had a reputation for being a harsh ruler who had risen from a lowly background. The Roman historian Tacitus described him as follows.

". . . Antonius Felix, practiced every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of [a] king with all the instincts of a slave." [Note: Tacitus, The Histories, 5:9.]

He was apparently a freed Prayer of Manasseh , someone who had been a bondsman but had received his freedom from an authoritative Roman who in this case was Emperor Claudius" mother, Antonia. He was the first slave ever to become the governor of a Roman province. [Note: Barclay, p184.] Felix rose to power as a result of his influential brother, his self-serving political maneuvering, and his three calculating marriages. He normally dealt very severely with Jews, especially the dagger-men, the terrorists who sought to overthrow Roman rule by assassinating key Romans and Proverbs -Roman Jews (cf. Acts 21:38).


Verses 33-35

Paul"s introduction to Felix23:33-35


Verse 34-35

Felix inquired concerning Paul"s home province for the following reason. If Paul had come from an area in the empire that had its own ruler in addition to a Roman governor, that local authority had a right to witness the proceedings (cf. Luke 23:6-12). Cilicia was not such a place, however, so Felix could deal with Paul himself. He needed to hear the testimony of Paul"s accusers, of course. Consequently Felix kept Paul in the governor"s palace, the Praetorium, which Herod the Great had built, until those Jews arrived and he could conduct a hearing. The governor"s palace had cells for prisoners. Paul would have been fairly comfortable there since he was a Roman citizen who had not even been charged formally with a crime.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 23:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-23.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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