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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 23

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


Paul defending himself before the high priest, he commands him

to be smitten on the mouth, 1, 2.

Paul sharply reproves him, and, being reproved for this by one

of the attendants, accounts for his conduct, 3-5.

Seeing that the assembly was composed of Pharisees and

Sadducees, and that he could expect no justice from his judges,

he asserts that it was for his belief in the resurrection that

he was called in question, on which the Pharisees declare in

his favour, 6-9.

A great dissension arises, and the chief captain, fearing lest

Paul should be pulled to pieces, brings him into the castle,


He is comforted by a dream, 11.

More than forty persons conspire his death, 12-15.

Paul's sister's son, hearing of it, informs the captain of the

guard, 16-22.

He sends Paul by night, under a strong escort of horse and

foot, to Caesarea, to Felix, and with him a letter, stating

the circumstances of the case, 23-33.

They arrive at Caesarea, and Felix promises him a hearing when

his accusers shall come down, 34, 35.


Verse Acts 23:1. I have lived in all good conscience — Some people seem to have been unnecessarily stumbled with this expression. What does the apostle mean by it? Why, that, while he was a Jew, he was one from principle of conscience; that what he did, while he continued Jew, he did from the same principle; that, when God opened his eyes to see the nature of Christianity, he became a Christian, because God persuaded his conscience that it was right for him to become one; that, in a word, he was sincere through the whole course of his religious life, and his conduct had borne the most unequivocal proofs of it. The apostle means, therefore, that there was no part of his life in which he acted as a dishonest or hypocritical man; and that he was now as fully determined to maintain his profession of Christianity as he ever was to maintain that of Judaism, previously to his acquaintance with the Christian religion.

Verse 2

Verse Acts 23:2. The high priest, Ananias — There was a high priest of this name, who was sent a prisoner to Rome by Quadratus, governor of Syria, to give an account of the part he took in the quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans; see Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 6, s. 8; but whether he ever returned again to Jerusalem, says Dr. Lightfoot, is uncertain; still more uncertain whether he was ever restored to the office of high priest; and most uncertain of all whether he filled the chair when Paul pleaded his cause, which was some years after Felix was settled in the government. But Krebs has proved that this very Ananias, on being examined at Rome, was found innocent, returned to Jerusalem, and was restored to the high priesthood; see Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 9, s. 2; but of his death I find nothing certain. See Krebs on this place, (Observat. in Nov. Testament. e Flavio Josepho,) who successfully controverts the opinion of Dr. Lightfoot, mentioned at the beginning of this note. There was one Ananias, who is said to have perished in a tumult raised by his own son about five years after this time; see Jos. Antiq. lib. x. cap. 9. War, lib. ii. cap. 17.

To smite him on the mouth. — Because he professed to have a good conscience, while believing on Jesus Christ, and propagating his doctrine.

Verse 3

Verse Acts 23:3. God shall smite thee, thou whited wall — Thou hypocrite! who sittest on the seat of judgment, pretending to hear and seriously weigh the defense of an accused person, who must in justice and equity be presumed to be innocent till he is proved to be guilty; and, instead of acting according to the law, commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law, which always has the person of the prisoner under its protection; nor ever suffers any penalty to be inflicted but what is prescribed as the just punishment for the offense. As if he had said: "Thinkest thou that God will suffer such an insult on his laws, on justice, and on humanity, to pass unpunished?"

Verse 5

Verse Acts 23:5. I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest — After all the learned labour that has been spent on this subject, the simple meaning appears plainly to be this:-

St. Paul did not know that Ananias was high priest; he had been long absent from Jerusalem; political changes were frequent; the high priesthood was no longer in succession, and was frequently bought and sold; the Romans put down one high priest, and raised up another, as political reasons dictated. As the person of Ananias might have been wholly unknown to him, as the hearing was very sudden, and there was scarcely any time to consult the formalities of justice, it seems very probable that St. Paul, if he ever had known the person of Ananias, had forgotten him; and as, in a council or meeting of this kind, the presence of the high priest was not indispensably necessary, he did not know that the person who presided was not the sagan, or high priest's deputy, or some other person put in the seat for the time being. I therefore understand the words above in their most obvious and literal sense. He knew not who the person was, and God's Spirit suddenly led him to denounce the Divine displeasure against him.

Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. — If I had known he was the high priest, I should not have publicly pronounced this execration; for respect is due to his person for the sake of his office. I do not see that Paul intimates that he had done any thing through inadvertence; nor does he here confess any fault; he states two facts:-

1. That he did not know him to be the high priest.

2. That such a one, or any ruler of the people, should be reverenced. But he neither recalled or made an apology for his words: he had not committed a trespass, and he did not acknowledge one. We must beware how we attribute either to him in the case before us.

Verse 6

Verse Acts 23:6. I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee — Instead of φαρισαιου, of a Pharisee, ABC, some others, with the Syriac and Vulgate, have φαρισαιων, of the Pharisees; which, if acknowledged to be the genuine reading, would alter the sense thus, I am a Pharisee, and a disciple of the Pharisees, for so the word son is frequently understood.

Of the hope and resurrection — Concerning the hope of the resurrection, the και, and, being here redundant; indeed, it is omitted by the Syriac, all the Arabic, and AEthiopic. St. Paul had preached the resurrection of the dead, on the foundation and evidence of the resurrection of Christ. For this, he and the apostles were, some time before, imprisoned by the high priest and elders, Acts 4:1-3; Acts 5:17, because they preached, THROUGH JESUS, the resurrection of the dead. This they could not bear; for, if Jesus Christ rose from the dead, their malice and wickedness, in putting him to death, were incontrovertibly established.

Verse 7

Verse Acts 23:7. And the multitude was divided — St. Paul, perceiving the assembly to consist of Sadducees and Pharisees, and finding he was not to expect any justice, thought it best thus to divide the council, by introducing a question on which the Pharisees and Sadducees were at issue. He did so; and the Pharisees immediately espoused his side of the question, because in opposition to the Sadducees, whom they abhorred, as irreligious men.

Verse 8

Verse Acts 23:8. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection — It is strange, since these denied a future state, that they observed the ordinances of the law; for they also believed the five books of Moses to be a revelation from God: yet they had nothing in view but temporal good; and they understood the promises in the law as referring to these things alone. In order, therefore, to procure them, they watched, fasted, prayed, c., and all this they did that they might obtain happiness in the present life. See the account of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Matthew 3:7; Matthew 16:1.

Verse 9

Verse Acts 23:9. The scribes - arose, and strove — διεμαχοντο, They contended forcibly-they came to an open rupture with the Sadducees; and, in order to support their own party against them, they even admitted as truth, St. Paul's account of his miraculous conversion, and therefore they said, if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, c. He had previously mentioned that Jesus Christ had appeared to him, when on his way to Damascus and, though they might not be ready to admit the doctrine of Christ's resurrection, yet they could, consistently with their own principles, allow that the soul of Christ might appear to him; and they immediately caught at this, as furnishing a strong proof against the doctrine of the Sadducees, who neither believed in angel nor spirit, while the Pharisees confessed both.

Let us not fight against God. — These words are wanting in ABCE, several others, with the Coptic, AEthiopic, Armenian, later Syriac, Vulgate, and some of the fathers.

Verse 10

Verse Acts 23:10. The chief captain - commanded the soldiers to go down — It appears that the chief captain was present during these transactions, and that he had a body of soldiers in readiness in the castle of Antonia; and it was from this that he commanded them to come down; for the rescue and preservation of Paul.

Verse 11

Verse Acts 23:11. Be of good cheer, Paul — It is no wonder if, with all these trials and difficulties, St. Paul was much dejected in mind; and especially as he had not any direct intimation from God what the end of the present trials would be: to comfort him and strengthen his faith, God gave him this vision.

So must thou bear witness also at Rome. — This was pleasing intelligence to Paul, who had long desired to see that city, and preach the Gospel of Christ there. He appears to have had an intimation that he should see it; but how, he could not tell; and this vision satisfied him that he should be sent thither by God himself. This would settle every fear and scruple concerning the issue of the present persecution.

Verse 12

Verse Acts 23:12. That they would neither eat nor drink, c.] These forty Jews were no doubt of the class of the sicarii mentioned before, (similar to those afterwards called assassins,) a class of fierce zealots, who took justice into their own hand and who thought they had a right to despatch all those who, according to their views, were not orthodox in their religious principles. If these were, in their bad way, conscientious men, must they not all perish through hunger, as God put it out of their power to accomplish their vow? No: for the doctrine of sacerdotal absolution was held among the Jews as among the Papists: hence it is said, in Hieros. Avodah Zarah, fol. 40: "He that hath made a vow not to eat any thing, wo to him, if he eat; and wo to him, if he do not eat. If he eat, he sinneth against his vow; and if he do not eat, he sinneth against his life." What must such a man do in this case? Let him go to the wise men, and they will loose him from his vow, as it is written, Proverbs 12:18: "The tongue of the wise is health." When vows were so easily dispensed with, they might be readily multiplied. See Lightfoot.

Verse 15

Verse Acts 23:15. And we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him. — We shall lie in wait, and despatch him before he can reach the chief captain. The plan was well and deeply laid; and nothing but an especial providence could have saved Paul.

Verse 16

Verse Acts 23:16. Paul's sister's son — This is all we know of Paul's family. And we know not how this young man got to Jerusalem; the family, no doubt, still resided at Tarsus.

Verse 17

Verse Acts 23:17. Bring this young man unto the chief captain — Though St. Paul had the most positive assurance from Divine authority that he should be preserved, yet he knew that the Divine providence acts by reasonable and prudent means; and that, if he neglected to use the means in his power, he could not expect God's providence to work in his behalf. He who will not help himself, according to the means and power he possesses, has neither reason nor revelation to assure him that he shall receive any assistance from God.

Verse 23

Verse Acts 23:23. Two hundred soldiers — στρατιωτας, Infantry or foot soldiers.

Horsemen threescore and ten — There was always a certain number of horse, or cavalry, attached to the foot.

Spearmen — δεξιολαβους, Persons who held a spear or javelin in their hand; from εν τῃ δεξιᾳ λαβειν taking or holding a thing in the right hand. But the Codex Alexandrinus reads δεξιοβολους, from δεξια, the right hand, and βαλλειν, to cast or dart, persons who threw javelins. But both words seem to mean nearly the same thing.

The third hour of the night — About nine o'clock P.M., for the greater secrecy, and to elude the cunning, active malice of the Jews.

Verse 24

Verse Acts 23:24. Provide them beasts — One for Paul, and some others for his immediate keepers.

Felix the governor. — This Felix was a freed man of the Emperor Claudius, and brother of Pallas, chief favourite of the emperor. Tacitus calls him Antonius Felix; and gives us to understand that he governed with all the authority of a king, and the baseness and insolence of a quondam slave. E libertis Antonius Felix per omnem saevitiam ac libidinem jus regium servili ingenio exercuit. Hist. v. 9. He had, according to Suetonius, in his life of Claudius, chap. 28, three queens to his wives; that is, he was married thrice, and each time to the daughter or niece of a king. Drusilla, the sister of Agrippa, was his wife at this time; see Acts 24:24. He was an unrighteous governor; a base, mercenary, and bad man: see Acts 24:2.

Verse 25

Verse Acts 23:25. He wrote a letter after this manner — It appears that this was not only the substance of the letter, but the letter itself: the whole of it is so perfectly formal as to prove this; and in this simple manner are all the letters of the ancients formed. In this also we have an additional proof of St. Luke's accuracy.

Verse 30

Verse 30. I sent straightway to thee — As the proper person before whom this business should ultimately come, and by whom it should be decided.

Farewell. — εππωσο, Be in good health.

Verse 31

Verse 31. Antipatris. — This place, according to Josephus, Antiq. lib. xiii. cap. 23, was anciently called Capharsaba, and is supposed to be the same which, in 1 Macc. vii. 31, is called Capharsalama, or Carphasalama. It was rebuilt by Herod the Great, and denominated Antipatris, in honour of his father Antipater. It was situated between Joppa and Caesarea, on the road from Jerusalem to this latter city. Josephus says it was fifty stadia from Joppa. The distance between Jerusalem and Caesarea was about seventy miles.

Verse 32

Verse 32. On the morrow they left the horsemen — Being now so far from Jerusalem, they considered Paul in a state of safety from the Jews, and that the seventy horse would be a sufficient guard; the four hundred foot, therefore, returned to Jerusalem, and the horse went on to Caesarea with Paul. We need not suppose that all this troop did reach Antipatris on the same night in which they left Jerusalem; therefore, instead of, they brought him by night to Antipatris, we may understand the text thus-Then the soldiers took Paul by night, and brought him to Antipatris. And the thirty-second verse need not to be understood as if the foot reached the castle of Antonia the next day, (though all this was possible,) but that, having reached Antipatris, and refreshed themselves, they set out the same day, on their march to Jerusalem; on the morrow they returned, that is, they began their march back again to the castle. Acts 24:1; Acts 24:1.

Verse 33

Verse Acts 23:33. Who — That is, the seventy horsemen mentioned above.

Verse 35

Verse Acts 23:35. I will hear thee — διακουσομαι σου; I will give thee a fair, full, and attentive hearing when thy accusers are come; in whose presence thou shalt be permitted to defend thyself.

In Herod's judgment-hall. — εν τω πραιτωριω, In Herod's praetorium, so called because it was built by Herod the Great. The praetorium was the place where the Roman praetor had his residence; and it is probable that, in or near this place, there was a sort of guard room, where state prisoners were kept. Paul was lodged here till his accusers should arrive.

ON the preceeding chapter many useful observations may be made.

1. Paul, while acting contrary to the Gospel of Christ, pleaded conscience as his guide. Conscience is generally allowed to be the rule of human actions; but it cannot be a right rule, unless it be well informed. While it is unenlightened it may be a guide to the perdition of its professor, and the cause of the ruin of others. That conscience can alone be trusted in which the light of God's Spirit and God's truth dwells. An ill-informed conscience may burn even the saints for God's sake!

2. No circumstance in which a man can be placed can excuse him from showing respect and reverence to the authorities which God, in the course of his providence, has instituted for the benefit of civil or religious society. All such authorities come originally from God, and can never lose any of their rights on account of the persons who are invested with them. An evil can never be of use, and a good may be abused; but it loses not its character, essential qualities, or usefulness, because of this abuse.

3. Paul availed himself of the discordant sentiments of his judges, who had agreed to show him no justice, that he might rid himself out of their hands. To take advantage of the sentiments and dispositions of an audience, without deceiving it, and to raise dissension between the enemies of the truth, is an impotent artifice, when truth itself is not violated and when error is exposed thereby to public view.

4. The Pharisees and Sadducees strove together. God frequently raises up defenders of the principles of truth, even among those who, in practice, are its decided enemies. "Though," says one, "I do not like the truth, yet will I defend it." A man clothed with sovereign authority, vicious in his heart, and immoral in his life, fostered those principles of truth and righteousness by which error was banished from these lands, and pure and undefiled religion established among us for many generations.

5. The providence of God, and his management of the world, are in many respects great mysteries; but, as far as we are individually concerned, all is plain. Paul had the fullest assurance, from the mouth of Christ himself, that he should see Rome; and, consequently, that he should be extricated from all his present difficulties. Why then did he not quietly sit still, when his nephew informed him that forty men had conspired to murder him? Because he knew that God made use of the prudence with which he has endowed man as an agent in that very providence by which he is supported; and that to neglect the natural means of safety with which God provides us is to tempt and dishonour him, and induce him in judgment to use those means against us, which, in his mercy, he had designed for our comfort and salvation. Prudence is well associated even with an apostolical spirit. Every being that God has formed, he designs should accomplish those functions for which he has endowed it with the requisite powers.

6. Claudius Lysias sent Paul to Felix. "In the generality of human events," says one, "we do not often distinguish the designs of God from those of men. The design of Lysias, in preserving Paul from the rage of the Jews, was to render his own conduct free from exception: the design of God was, that he might bring Paul safely to Rome, that he might attack idolatry in its strongest fort, and there establish the Christian faith." God governs the world, and works by proper means; and counterworks evil or sinister devices, so as ultimately to accomplish the purposes of his will, and cause all things to work together for good to them that love Him.

7. Felix acted prudently when he would not even hear St. Paul till he had his accusers face to face. How many false judgments, evil surmises, and uncharitable censures would be avoided, did men always adopt this reasonable plan! Hear either side of a complaint separately, and the evil seems very great: hear both together, and the evil is generally lessened by one half. Audi et alteram partem-hear the other side, says a heathen: remember, if you have an ear for the first complainant, you have one also for the second.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Acts 23". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/acts-23.html. 1832.
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