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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible
Acts 23

 

 

Introduction

THE BOOK OF ACTS | CHAPTER 23

OUTLINE AND COMMENTARY - MARK DUNAGAN

I. OUTLINE OF CHAPTER 23:

"The commander was determined to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews (). He had tried questioning the crowd, but had got different answers from them (21:33-34). He was about to use torture, but Paul"s Roman citizenship blocked that avenue (22:24ff). So now he opted for a third method, trial by the Sanhedrin (22:30)" (Stott p. 351).


Verse 1

"Paul, looking intently at the Council": "We note once more the word for a piercing look that has become characteristic of Paul (Acts 13:9). Paul is looking over the Sanhedrin. He had not seen it since he had stood there among Stephen"s accusers, nearly a quarter of a century ago. Many changes, of course, had come about in the interval, but some of the faces were probably the same" (Reese p. 815). "Brethren": That is, Paul was a fellow Jew as they were. "I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day": This bold declaration included the period of time that he was persecuting Christians, for Paul was thoroughly convinced that persecuting Christians was the right thing to do (Acts 26:9). In other words he was saying, "Brethren, I have lived in such obedience to what I understood to be God"s demands on me, that I have always had a clear conscience" (Reese p. 816). Compare with Acts 24:16 and Philippians 3:6 "as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless".

Observation

Yet, clear conscience is not the standard by which we will be judged. From the fact that Paul had persecuted Christians in a good conscience is solid proof that one can be sincere and dedicated and thoroughly wrong. We must never place our trust in how we feel or our sincerity; rather we need to place our trust in God"s word for that is the standard of judgment (John 12:48). "The purest conscience was an unsafe object of trust under the scrutiny of God (see 1 Corinthians 4:4)" (Bruce p. 449). Remember, the conscience only prompts us to do what we think is right, it is not the actual standard of judgment of what is right.


Verse 2

"The high priest Ananias": The reader should be aware that this is not the Ananias who was with Caiaphas in the gospels, rather this is Ananias, son of Nedebaeus, who received the office from Herod of Chalcis, a brother of Herod Agrippa I in A.D. 47 and retained the office for eleven or twelve years. "He was one of the most disgraceful profaners of the sacred office. Josephus tells how he seized for himself the tithes that ought to have gone to the common priests (Antiquities xx. 9. 2) (Bruce p. 449). "He was a typical Sadducee, wealthy, haughty, unscrupulous, filling his sacred office for purely selfish and political ends. Agrippa II put him out of office in 59 A.D. Years later, when the rebellion broke out which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, Ananias concealed himself, but was discovered during the siege, and was murdered by the fanatical Jews (in A.D. 67)" (Reese p. xvi).

"Commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth": No doubt Ananias considered such a claim, made by one that he considered a heretic to be blasphemy. "To smite him in the mouth for it, was much easier than to disprove it" (McGarvey p. 223). Actually, witnesses could be produced that would verify Paul"s sincerity (22:3).


Verse 4

"Do you revile God"s high priest?": The bystanders were shocked by Paul"s outburst. The high priest while sitting in judgment was God"s representative (Deuteronomy 17:8 ff).


Verse 5

"I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest": This infers that Paul did not personally know Ananias and that Ananias on this occasion was not wearing his high priestly outfit. Some writers consider Paul"s statement here to have been said in irony, that is: "Pardon me, brethren, I did not consider that this was the high priest. It did not occur to me that a man who could conduct himself thusly could be God"s high priest" (Reese p. 817). Others see a similar irony and have Paul saying something like, "I was not aware that this usurper should be granted the honor the word of God accords to the office of high priest". "For it is written": Paul is saying, "Brethren, I know what the Bible says and I know that in Exodus 22:28 the Bible plainly says that we are to respect those in a position of authority over God"s people. Thus, it is clear that Paul had not purposefully set out to violate such a passage. So Paul is either saying that he was ignorant that this man was the current high priest or he was challenging the legitimacy of this pretender. McGarvey observes, "A rebuke which is perfectly just and right in itself may be improper on account of the official relations of the person addressed" (p. 224).


Verse 6

"But perceiving the one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees": "The presence in which Paul stood was not unfamiliar to him. He doubtless remembered the faces of many in the council, and he was intimately acquainted with the party feuds which often distracted their deliberations" (McGarvey p. 224). At this point Paul has been criticized by some commentators for his methods, that is, of deliberately creating an uproar, yet consider the following points. 1. It is evident at this moment that Paul is not going to receive a fair trial. 2. Remember, Jesus promised the apostles inspiration when they were on trial, so criticizing Paul can easily result in being critical of the Holy Spirit"s methods (Matthew 10:18-20). 3. What Paul says in this verse is true. The basic and fundamental reason that the Sadducees persecuted Christians was because the apostles preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:1 ff). While other issues were involved (such as preaching to Gentiles), the "ultimate ground of the hatred of him by the Sadducees" (McGarvey p. 226), was the resurrection. Compare with 1 Corinthians 15:16. "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees": "Acts 24:20-21 shows that Paul did not regard his conduct here as unworthy or tricky" (Reese p. 819). When Paul said that he was a Pharisee he was not denying the truth that he was a Christian and neither was he claiming that he was still observing the Law of Moses. "It was rather as though he said, "I am one with you in all that is truest in your creed"" (p. 819). "They knew that he claimed to be a Pharisee only in the sense of agreeing with the party in their points of antagonism with the Sadducees" (McGarvey p. 225). "I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!": "He aimed at enlisting the sympathy of the Pharisees, in the hope of securing a more just consideration of his own cause; and he doubtless desired a more peaceable procedure; but for the violence which followed he was not responsible" (p. 226).


Verse 7-8

In verse 8 Luke explains to readers of future generations and cultures why such a statement would have caused a division between these two Jewish parties. This is just one of those verses that anticipates a non-Jewish and other than first century audience, indicating that Acts would be a book that would be authoritative for all time. "Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit": They denied the doctrine of a bodily resurrection, and rejected belief in a spirit-world of angels and demons. In addition, the term spirit seems to suggest that they also rejected the idea that man possesses a soul. "But the Pharisees acknowledge them all": Thus, on these fundamental issues, Paul and the Pharisees are in complete agreement.


Verse 9

"We find nothing wrong with this man": "The Pharisees were immediately inclined to concede that a man who was so sound on central Pharisaic doctrine could not be so bad at heart after all; the Sadducees were more enraged than ever, at this public invocation of what was in their eyes a new-fangled heresy" (Bruce p. 453). Compare with Luke 20:39. "Suppose a spirit or an angel had spoken to him?": This may not have been an intentional barb on the part of the Pharisees against the Sadducees but an honest conviction. Some Pharisees even conceded that a divine being or angel may have indeed spoken to Paul. "The Sadducees, of course, repudiated the very possibility that such communications could be made" (Bruce p. 454). Of course, such a pronouncement did nothing but throw more fuel on the fire.


Verse 10

"A great dissension was developing, and the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them": The commander immediately sees what is developing, some were determined to defend Paul and others were more intent then ever upon killing him now. If Paul was not removed, the whole situation was going to turn into a fistfight with Paul right in the middle. "Torn to pieces is a word used when a wild beast tears its prey to pieces" (Reese p. 822). As a result, Paul is removed by the soldiers and taken back to the fortress of Antonia and the commander still does not have a clue why the Jews want to kill him.


Verse 11

"Take courage": This statement may infer that Paul was discouraged as a result of such efforts. Would he be delivered from the unbelieving Jews in Judea? Inside this prison it seemed like there was no field of usefulness. And what had happened to his plans to visit Rome and preach in Spain? (Romans 15:24). Jesus typically appeared to Paul in times of greatest need, "when danger and reason for despondency were greatest, and when human companionship was most lacking" (Reese p. 823). Compare with Acts 22:18-21; Acts 18:9; Acts 27:23. Jesus often told the faithful, "take courage" (Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:27; Matthew 14:27; John 16:33). "For as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem": This solemn witness includes his speeches in chapters 21 and this chapter. "You must witness at Rome also": So for the first time Paul hears God"s plan, Paul is indeed going to Rome! Thus, the inference is that the Jews will not kill him, but rather he will go to Rome.


Verse 12-13

The hatred against Paul was so intense in Jerusalem that forty men were willing to forfeit their lives in an attempt to assassinate him. "Bound themselves under an oath": The Bible cautions the faithful concerning what a person promises. These men will end up being very hungry and thirsty, for they will not be allowed to kill Paul. Secular history records that during the administration of Felix a group of Jewish assassins caused a lot of trouble. Some or all of these men may have been from such a fanatical group.


Verse 14-15

Here is the plot that sadly the Jewish leadership endorsed. The idea would be to convince the Roman commander to bring Paul for a more thorough investigation and on the way from the fortress of Antonia to the place of examination, these 40 Jewish terrorists would ambush Paul and the Roman guard. This really shows the desperation and hatred among these Jews. Such an action would have probably succeeded, but all or most of the 40 men may have been slain in the process. In practical terms this was nothing more than a suicide mission. The Sanhedrin may have accepted this plan, because not only did they want to get rid of Paul, but also "if Paul were slain before he got near to the place where the Sanhedrin was to meet, there would be less suspicion that they themselves had a part in the deed" (Reese p. 825). The irony is that if Paul had never become a Christian, he would have signed up for such a mission against a prominent preacher of the gospel. "Are ready to slay him before he comes near the place": They probably had already picked the best stop for the ambush. "As the prisoner was lead along the narrow street, or along the pavement of the great court, it would have been easy for forty desperate men, having chosen their position in advance, to have rushed in among the unsuspecting soldiers, and slain Paul before a blow could have been struck in his defense" (McGarvey pp. 229-230).


Verse 16

"But the son of Paul"s sister heard of their ambush": First note that God again protects Paul without working any miracles (compare with Acts 18:10 ff). There is so much in this verse that sparks our curiosity. Was Paul"s sister a Christian? How big was his family? How many brothers and sisters did he have? From Philippians 3:8 we might assume that Paul had been rejected by his entire family and disinherited, but this verse suggests that some family members became Christians as well. "He came and entered the barracks and told Paul": As a Roman citizen Paul could receive such visitors while in custody.


Verses 17-22

Give the commander credit for believing Paul"s nephew, in addition, after seeing the uncontrolled anger of the Jews in Acts 21:1-40 and this chapter, it would not be hard to believe such a plot. The commander will also adopt a wise course of action, instead of refusing the anticipated Jewish request and thus risk bloodshed and riot, he wisely transferred this prisoner to a more secure and a less "Jewish" location. Remember, this commander is responsible for what happens to this Roman citizen, so he sends him by night to Caesarea with an armed escort.


Verse 23-24

The escort was heavily armed, with heavy infantry and cavalry. Horses were necessary because the distance between Jerusalem and Caesarea was sixty miles and that distance must be covered as quickly as possible. Assuming that this text is mentioning Jewish time in Jerusalem, then it was 9:00 p.m. when this escort left Jerusalem. "This escort seems a large one for one prisoner, but the tumults of the previous days and the information just received as to a conspiracy gave Lysias good reason to anticipate a formidable attack should they encounter one" (Reese p. 830). Historians tell us that the total force that this command would have had in Jerusalem would have been 1000 soldiers and 120 horsemen. If this is accurate, then Lysias commits over half his cavalry to this escort.

THE LETTER

Seeing that the commander is not going with this force, then an explanation is needed to go along with this prisoner.


Verse 25

"Having this form": This seems to suggest that Luke is simply giving us the general outline of the letter and not the entire contents.


Verse 26

"Claudius Lysias": The commander"s name is now mentioned for the first time in the narrative. The name Lysias, pronounced lis ih uhs is a Greek name while the name Claudius is Roman, and might have been taken when he received his citizenship during the reign of Claudius. "To the most excellent": This title was addressed to the equestrian order in Roman society (of which Felix was not a member) but was also used when addressing governors of provinces such as Judea. "Felix": Sometime around 52 A.D. he had been appointed as governor of Judea. He seems to have received this appointment due to the influence of his brother Pallas, who was an important person in the court of Claudius. His wife was Drusilla, a Jewish women whom he had seduced from her husband and the only reason that he will keep Paul in prison was because he hoped to be bribed (Acts 24:27). Somewhere around 60 A.D. he will be removed from power and will stand trial before Nero. He will not be punished because of the influence of his brother.


Verse 27

"Having learned that he was a Roman": The letter summarizes the events from the temple riot to the discovery of the conspiracy against Paul"s life. Of course, Lysias alters the truth in this verse. He actually learned that Paul was a Roman citizen after he had ordered this citizen to be scourged! This last episode he "diplomatically omitted!" (Bruce p. 460).


Verses 28-30

The commander had not learned why the Jews hated him so but had learned this much, he had committed no crime deserving of death or imprisonment.


Verse 31

The city of Antipatris (an tip uh tris) was about halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea. "Antipatris was reached after descending from the mountains of Ephraim into the plain of Sharon" (McGarvey p. 232).


Verse 32

At this juncture the infantry turned back and left Paul with the cavalry. "The remaining part of the journey was through open country where the population was largely Gentile" (Bruce p. 461).


Verse 33-34

Felix will ask Paul what province he was from. "Had Paul come from one of the client kingdoms in the Syrian or Anatolian area, it would have been proper to consult the ruler of the state in question. But as he came in fact from a Roman province, it was competent for a Roman governor to go ahead and deal with his case without external consultation" (Bruce p. 462).


Verse 35

Paul is informed that he will be allowed to face his accusers and then he is taken to Herod"s Praetorium. The word praetorium could apply to where the king lived or where the soldiers lived, it came to signify any building where an imperial representative lived. The building here was probably built by Herod the Great for use as a royal residence, which had now been taken over by the Romans (which they often did). "As was common with most such official headquarters, this one had a guard-room for the confinement of prisoners" (Reese p. 835).

 


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Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Acts 23:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/acts-23.html. 1999-2014.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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