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Bible Commentaries
Acts 23

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Verse 1

And Paul, earnestly beholding - ἀτενίσας atenisas. Fixing his eyes intently on the council. The word denotes “a fixed and earnest gazing; a close observation.” See Luke 4:20. Compare the notes on Acts 3:4. Paul would naturally look with a keen and attentive observation on the council. He was arraigned before them, and he would naturally observe the appearance, and endeavor to ascertain the character of his judges. Besides, it was by this council that he had been formerly commissioned to persecute the Christians, Acts 9:1-2. He had not seen them since that commission was given. He would naturally, therefore, regard them with an attentive eye. The result shows, also, that he looked at them to see what was the character of the men there assembled, and what was the proportion of Pharisees and Sadducees, Acts 23:6.

The council - Greek: the Sanhedrin, Acts 22:30. It was the great council, composed of seventy elders, to whom was entrusted the affairs of the nation. See the notes on Matthew 1:4.

Men and brethren - Greek: “Men, brethren”; the usual form of beginning an address among the Jews. See Acts 2:29. He addressed them still as his brethren.

I have lived in all good conscience - I have conducted myself so as to maintain a good conscience. I have done what I believed to be right. This was a bold declaration, after the tumult, and charges, and accusations of the previous day Acts 22:0; and yet it was strictly true. His persecutions of the Christians had been conducted conscientiously, Acts 26:9, “I verily thought with myself,” says he, “that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” Of his conscientiousness and fidelity in their service they could bear witness. Of his conscientiousness since, he could make a similar declaration. He doubtless meant to say that as he had been conscientious in persecution, so he had been in his conversion and in his subsequent course. And as they knew that his former life had been with a good conscience, they ought to presume that he had maintained the same character still. This was a remarkably bold appeal to be made by an accused man, and it shows the strong consciousness which Paul had of his innocence. What would have been the drift of his discourse in proving this we can only Conjecture. He was interrupted Acts 23:2; but there can be no doubt that he would have pursued such a course of argument as would tend to establish his innocence.

Before God - Greek: to God - τῷ Θεῷ tō Theō. He had lived to God, or with reference to his commands, so as to keep a conscience pure in his sight. The same principle of conduct he states more at length in Acts 24:16; “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men.”

Until this day - Including the time before his conversion to Christianity, and after. In both conditions he was conscientious; in one, conscientious in persecution and error, though he deemed it to be right; in the other, conscientious in the truth. The mere fact that a man is conscientious does not prove that he is right or innocent. See the note on John 16:2.

Verse 2

And the high priest Ananias - This Ananias was doubtless the son of Nebedinus (Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 5, section 3), who was high priest when Quadratus, who preceded Felix, was president of Syria. He was sent bound to Rome by Quadratus, at the same time with Ananias, the prefect of the temple, that they might give an account of their conduct to Claudius Caesar (Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 6, section 2). But in consequence of the intercession of Agrippa the younger, they were dismissed and returned to Jerusalem. Ananias, however, was not restored to the office of high priest. For, when Felix was governor of Judea, this office was filled by Jonathan, who succeeded Ananias I (Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 10). Jonathan was slain in the temple itself, by the instigation of Felix, by assassins who had been hired for the purpose. This murder is thus described by Josephus (Antiq., book 20, chapter 8, section 5): “Felix bore an ill-will to Jonathan, the high priest, because he frequently gave him admonitions about governing the Jewish affairs better than he did, lest complaints should be made against him, since he had procured of Caesar the appointment of Felix as procurator of Judea. Accordingly, Felix contrived a method by which he might get rid of Jonathan, whose admonitions had become troublesome to him. Felix persuaded one of Jonathan’s most faithful friends, of the name Doras, to bring the robbers upon him, and to put him to death.”

This was done in Jerusalem. The robbers came into the city as if to worship God, and with daggers, which they had concealed under their garments, they put him to death. After the death of Jonathan, the office of high priest remained vacant until King Agrippa appointed Ismael, the son of Fabi, to the office (Josephus, Antiq., book 20, chapter 8, section 8). It was during this interval, while the office of high priest was vacant, that the events which are here recorded took place. Ananias was then at Jerusalem; and as the office of high priest was vacant, and as he was the last person who had borne the office, it was natural that he should discharge, probably by common consent, its duties, so far, at least, as to preside in the Sanhedrin. Of these facts Paul would be doubtless apprised; and hence, what he said Acts 23:5 was strictly true, and is one of the evidences that Luke’s history accords precisely with the special circumstances which then existed. When Luke here calls Ananias “the high priest,” he evidently intends not to affirm that he was actually such, but to use the word, as the Jews did, as applicable to one who had been in that office, and who, on that occasion, when the office was vacant, performed its duties.

To smite him on the mouth - To stop him from speaking; to express their indignation at what he had said. The anger of Ananias was aroused because Paul affirmed that all he had done had been with a good conscience. Their feelings had been excited to the utmost; they regarded him as certainly guilty; they regarded him as an apostate; and they could not bear it that he, with such coolness and firmness, declared that all his conduct had been under the direction of a good conscience. The injustice of the command of Ananias is apparent to all. A similar instance of violence occurred on the trial of the Saviour, John 18:22.

Verse 3

God shall smite thee - God shall punish thee. God is just; and he will not suffer such a manifest violation of all the laws of a fair trial to pass unavenged. This was a remarkably bold and fearless declaration. Paul was surrounded by enemies. They were seeking his life. He must have known that such declarations would only excite their wrath and make them more thirsty for his blood. That he could thus address the president of the council was not only strongly characteristic of the man, but was also a strong proof that he was conscious of innocence, and that justice was on his side. This expression of Paul, “God shall smite thee,” is not to be regarded in the light of an imprecatio, or as an expression of angry feeling, but of a prediction, or of a strong conviction on the mind of Paul that a man so hypocritical and unjust as Ananias was could not escape the vengeance of God. Ananias was slain, with Hezekiah his brother, during the agitation that occurred in Jerusalem when the robbers, or Sicarii, under their leader, Manahem, had taken possession of the city. He attempted to conceal himself in an aqueduct, but was drawn forth and killed. See Josephus, Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 17, section 8. Thus, Paul’s prediction was fulfilled.

Thou whited wall - This is evidently a proverbial expression, meaning thou hypocrite. His hypocrisy consisted in the fact that while he pretended to sit there to do justice, he commanded the accused to be smitten in direct violation of the Law, thus showing that his character was not what he professed it to be, but that of one determined to carry the purposes of his party and of his own feelings. Our Saviour used a similar expression to describe the hypocritical character of the Pharisees Matthew 23:27, when he compares them to whited sepulchres. A whited wall is a wall or enclosure that is covered with lime or gypsum, and that thus appears to be different from what it is, and thus aptly describes the hypocrite. Seneca (De Providentia, chapter 6) uses a similar figure to describe hypocrites: “They are sordid, base, and like their walls adorned only externally.” See also Seneca, Epis. 115.

For sittest thou ... - The Law required that justice should be done, and in order to that, it gave every man an opportunity of defending himself. See the note, John 7:51. Compare Proverbs 18:13; Leviticus 19:15-16; Exodus 23:1-2; Deuteronomy 19:15, Deuteronomy 19:18.

To judge me after the law - As a judge, to hear and decide the case according to the rules of the Law of Moses.

Contrary to the law - In violation of the Law of Moses Leviticus 19:35, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment.”

Verse 4

Revilest thou ... - Dost thou reproach or abuse the high priest of God? is remarkable that they, who knew that he was not the high priest, should have offered this language. He was, however, in the place of the high priest, and they might have pretended that respect was due to the office.

Verse 5

Then said Paul, I wist not - I know not; I was ignorant of the fact that he was high priest. Interpreters have been greatly divided on the meaning of this expression. Some have supposed that Paul said it in irony, as if he had said, “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 thus could be God’s highest. Others have thought (as Grotius) that Paul used these words for the purpose of mitigating their wrath, and as an acknowledgment that he had spoken hastily, and that it was contrary to his usual habit, which was not to speak evil of the ruler of the people. As if he had said, “I acknowledge my error and my haste. I did not consider that I was addressing him whom God had commanded me to respect.” But this interpretation is not probable, for Paul evidently did not intend to retract what he had said.

Dr. Doddridge renders it, “I was not aware, brethren, that it was the high priest,” and regards it as an apology for having spoken in haste. But the obvious reply to this interpretation is, that if Ananias was the high priest, Paul could not but be aware of it. Of so material a point it is hardly possible that he could be ignorant. Others suppose that, as Paul had been long absent from Jerusalem, and had not known the changes which had occurred there, he was a stranger to the person of the high priest. Others suppose that Ananias did not occupy the usual seat which was appropriated to the high priest, and that he was not clothed in the usual robes of office, and that Paul did not recognize him as the high priest. But it is wholly improbable that on such an occasion the high priest, who was the presiding officer in the Sanhedrin, should not be known to the accused. The true interpretation, therefore, I suppose, is what is derived from the fact that Ananias was not then properly the high priest; that there was a vacancy in the office, and that he presided by courtesy, or in virtue of his having been formerly invested with that office.

The meaning then will be: “I do not regard or acknowledge him as the high priest, or address him as such, since that is not his true character. Had he been truly the high priest, even if he had thus been guilty of manifest injustice, I would not have used the language which I did. The office, if not the man, would have claimed respect. But as he is not truly and properly clothed with that office, and as he was guilty of manifest injustice, I did not believe that he was to be shielded in his injustice by the Law which commands me to show respect to the proper ruler of the people.” If this be the true interpretation, it shows that Luke, in this account, accords entirely with the truth of history. The character of Ananias as given by Josephus, the facts which he has stated in regard to him, all accord with the account here given, and show that the writer of the “Acts of the Apostles” was acquainted with the history of that time, and has correctly stated it.

For it is written - Exodus 22:28. Paul adduces this to show that it was his purpose to observe the Law; that he would not intentionally violate it; and that, if he had known Ananias to be high priest, he would have been restrained by his regard for the Law from using the language which he did.

Of the ruler of thy people - This passage had not any special reference to the high priest, but it inculcated the general spirit of respect for those in office, whatever that office was. As the office of high priest was one of importance and authority, Paul declares here that he would not be guilty of showing disrespect for it, or of using reproachful language in regard to it.

Verse 6

But when Paul perceived - Probably by his former acquaintance with the men who composed the council. As he had been brought up in Jerusalem, and had been before acquainted with the Sanhedrin Acts 9:2, he would have an acquaintance, doubtless, with the character of most of those present, though he had been absent from them for fourteen years, Galatians 2:1.

The one part ... - That the council was divided into two parts, Pharisees and Sadducees. This was commonly the case, though it was uncertain which had the majority. In regard to the opinions of these two sects, see the notes on Matthew 3:7.

He cried out ... - The reasons why Paul resolved to take advantage of their difference of opinion were, probably:

(1) That he saw that it was impossible to expect justice at their hands, and he therefore regarded it as prudent and proper to consult his own safety. He saw, from the conduct of Ananias, and from the spirit manifested Acts 23:4, that they, like the other Jews, had prejudged the case, and were driven on by blind rage and fury.

(2) His object was to show his innocence to the chief captain. To ascertain that was the purpose for which he had been arraigned. Yet that, perhaps, could be most directly and satisfactorily shown by bringing out, as he knew he could do, the real spirit which actuated the whole council, as a spirit of party strife, contention, and persecution. Knowing, therefore, how sensitive they were on the subject of the resurrection, he seems to have resolved to do what he would not have done had they been disposed to hear him according to the rules of justice - to abandon the direct argument for his defense, and to enlist a large part, perhaps a majority of the council, in his favor. Whatever may be thought of the propriety of this course, it cannot be denied that it was a masterstroke of policy, and that it evinced a profound knowledge of human nature.

I am a Pharisee - That is, I was of that sect among the Jews. I was born a Pharisee, and I ever continued while a Jew to be of that sect. In the main he agreed with them still. He did not mean to deny that he was a Christian, but that, so far as the Pharisees differed from the Sadducees, he was with the former. He agreed with them, not with the Sadducees, in regard to the doctrine of the resurrection, and the existence of angels and spirits.

The son of a Pharisee - What was the name of his father is not known. But the meaning is, simply, that he was entitled to all the immunities and privileges of a Pharisee. He had, from his birth, belonged to that sect, nor had he ever departed from the great cardinal doctrine which distinguished that sect - the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Compare Philippians 3:5.

Of the hope and resurrection of the dead - That is, of the hope that the dead will be raised. This is the real point of the opposition to me.

I am called in question - Greek: I am judged; that is, I am persecuted, or brought to trial. Orobio charges this upon Paul as an artful manner of declining persecution, unworthy the character of an upright and honest man. Chubb, a British Deist of the seventeenth century, charges it upon Paul as an act of gross “dissimulation, as designed to conceal the true ground of all the troubles that he had brought upon himself, and as designed to deceive and impose upon the Jews.” He affirms also that “Paul probably invented this pretended charge against himself to draw over a party of the unbelieving Jews unto him.” See Chubb’s Posthumous Works, vol. ii. p. 238. Now, in reply to this, we may observe:

(1) That there is not the least evidence that Paul denied that he had been, or was then, a Christian. An attempt to deny this, after all that they knew of him, would have been vain; and there is not the slightest hint that he attempted it.

(2) The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was the main and leading doctrine which he had insisted on, and which had been to him the cause of much of his persecution. See Acts 17:31-32; 1 Corinthians 15:0; Acts 13:34; Acts 26:6-7, Acts 26:23, Acts 26:25.

(3) Paul defended this by an argument which he deemed invincible; and which constituted, in fact, the principal evidence of its truth - the fact that the Lord Jesus had been raised. That fact had fully confirmed the doctrine of the Pharisees that the dead would rise. As Paul had everywhere proclaimed the fact that Jesus had been raised up, and as this had been the occasion of his being opposed, it was true that he had been persecuted on account of that doctrine.

(4) The real ground of the opposition Which the Sadducees made to him, and of their opposition to his doctrine, was the additional zeal with which he urged this doctrine, and the additional argument which he brought for the resurrection of the dead. Perhaps the cause of the opposition of this great party among the Jews the Sadducees - to Christianity, was the strong confirmation which the resurrection of Christ gave to the doctrine which they so much hated - the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. It thus gave a triumph to their opponents among the Pharisees, and Paul, as a leading and zealous advocate of that doctrine, would excite their special hatred.

(5) All that Paul said, therefore, was strictly true. It was because he advocated this doctrine that he was opposed. That there were other causes of opposition to him might be true also; but still this was the main and prominent cause of the hostility.

(6) With great propriety, therefore, he might address the Pharisees and say, “Brethren, the doctrine which has distinguished you from the Sadducees is at stake. The doctrine which is at the foundation of all our hopes - the resurrection of the dead; the doctrine of our fathers, of the Scriptures, of our sect, is in danger. Of that doctrine I have been the advocate. I have never denied it. I have everywhere defended it, and have devoted myself to the work of putting it on an imperishable basis among the Jews and the Gentiles. For my zeal in that I have been opposed. I have excited the ridicule of the Gentile and the hatred of the Sadducee. I have thus been persecuted and arraigned; and for my zeal in urging the argument in defense of it which I have deemed most irrefragable the resurrection of the Messiah - I have been arraigned, and now cast myself on your protection against the mad zeal of the enemies of the doctrine of our fathers.” Not only, therefore, was this an act of policy and prudence in Paul, but what he affirmed was strictly true, and the effect was as he had anticipated.

Verse 7

A dissension - A dispute, or difference.

And the multitude - The council. Compare Acts 14:4. The Pharisees embraced, as he desired and expected, his side of the question, and became his advocates, in opposition to the Sadducees, who were arrayed against him.

Verse 8

For the Sadducees say - They believe.

No resurrection - Of the dead. By this doctrine they also understood that there was no future state, and that the soul did not exist after death. See the notes on Matthew 22:23.

Neither angel - That there are no angels. They deny the existence of good or bad angels. See the notes on Matthew 3:7.

Nor spirit - Nor soul. That there is nothing but matter. They were materialists, and supposed that all the operations which we ascribe to mind could be traced to some modification of matter. The Sadducees, says Josephus (Jewish Wars, book ii. chapter 8, section 14), “take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades.” “The doctrine of the Sadducees is this,” says he (Antiq., book 18, chapter 1, section 4), “that souls die with the bodies.” The opinion that the soul is material, and that there is nothing but matter in the universe, has been held by many philosophers, ancient and modern, as well as by the Sadducees.

Confess both - Acknowledge, or receive both as true; that is, that there is a future state, and that there are spirits distinct from matter, as angels, and the disembodied souls of people. The two points in dispute were:

  1. Whether the dead would be raised and exist in a future state; and,
  2. Whether mind was distinct from matter. The Sadducees denied both, and the Pharisees believed both. Their belief of the Latter point was, that spirits existed in two forms - that of angels, and that of souls of people distinct from the body.

Verse 9

A great cry - A great clamor and tumult.

The scribes - The learned men. They would naturally be the chief speakers.

Of the Pharisees’ part - Who were Pharisees, or who belonged to that party. The scribes were not a distinct sect, but might be either Pharisees or Sadducees.

We find no evil in this man - No opinion which is contrary to the Law of Moses; no conduct in spreading the doctrine of the resurrection which we do not approve. The importance of this doctrine, in their view, was so great as to throw into the background all the other doctrines that Paul might hold; and, provided this were propagated, they were willing to vindicate and sustain him. A similar testimony was offered to the innocence of the Saviour by Pilate, John 19:6.

But if a spirit or an angel ... - They here referred, doubtless, to what Paul had said in Acts 22:17-18. He had declared that he had gone among the I Gentiles in obedience to a command which he received in a vision in the temple. As the Pharisees held to the belief of spirits and angels, and to the doctrine that the will of God was often delivered to people by their agency, they were ready now to admit that he had received such a communication, and that he had gone among the Gentiles in obedience to it, to defend their great doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. We are not to suppose that the Pharisees had become the friends of Paul or of Christianity. The true solution of their conduct doubtless is, that they were so inflamed with hatred against the Sadducees that they were willing to make use of any argument against their doctrine. As the testimony of Paul might be turned to their account, they were willing to vindicate him. It is remarkable, too, that they perverted the statement of Paul in order to oppose the Sadducees. Paul had stated distinctly Acts 22:17-18 that he had been commanded to go by the Lord, meaning the Lord Jesus. He had said nothing of “a spirit or an angel.” Yet they would unite with the Sadducees so far as to maintain that he had received no such command from the Lord Jesus. But they might easily vary his statements, and suppose that an “angel or a spirit” had spoken to him, and thus make use of his conduct as an argument against the Sadducees. Men are not always very careful about the exact correctness of their statements when they wish to humble a rival.

Let us not fight against God - See the notes on Acts 5:39. These words are missing in many mss. and in some of the ancient versions. The Syriac reads it, “If a spirit or an angel have spoken to him, what is there in this?” that is, what is there unusual or wrong?

Verse 10

A great dissension - A great tumult, excitement, or controversy.

Into the castle - See the notes on Acts 21:34.

Verse 11

The Lord stood by him - Evidently the Lord Jesus. See the notes on Acts 1:24. Compare Acts 22:18. The appearance of the Lord in this case was a proof that he approved the course which Paul had taken before the Sanhedrin.

Be of good cheer - It would not be remarkable if Paul, by these constant persecutions, should be dejected in mind. The issue of the whole matter was as yet doubtful. In these circumstances, it must have been especially consoling to him to hear these words of encouragement from the Lord Jesus, and this assurance that the object of his desires would be granted, and that he would be permitted to bear the same witness of him in Rome. Nothing else can comfort and sustain the soul in trials and persecutions but evidence of the approbation of God, and the promises of his gracious aid.

Bear witness also at Rome - This had been the object of his earnest wish Romans 1:10; Romans 15:23-24, and this promise of the Lord Jesus was fulfilled, Acts 28:30-31. The promise which was here made to Paul was not directly one of deliverance from the present persecution, but it implied that, and made it certain.

Verse 12

Certain of the Jews - Some of the Jews. They were more than forty in number, Acts 23:13.

Banded together - Made an agreement or compact. They conspired to kill him.

And bound themselves under a curse - See the margin. The Greek is, “they anathematized themselves”; that is, they bound themselves by a solemn oath. They invoked a curse on themselves, or devoted themselves to destruction, if they did not do it. Lightfoot remarks, however, that they could be absolved from this vow by the rabbis if they were unable to execute it. Under various pretences they could easily be freed from such oaths, and it was common to take them; and if there was any difficulty in fulfilling them, they could easily apply to their religious teachers and be absolved.

That they would neither eat nor drink - That is, that they would do it as soon as possible. This was a common form of an oath, or curse, among the Jews. Sometimes they only vowed abstinence from particular things, as from meat, or wine. But in this case, to make the oath more certain and binding, they vowed abstinence from all kinds of food and drink until they had killed him. Who these were - whether they were Sadducees or not - is not mentioned by the sacred writer. It is evident, however, that the minds of the Jews were greatly inflamed against Paul; and as they saw him in the custody of the Roman tribune, and as there was no prospect that he would punish him, they resolved to take the matter into their own hands. Michaelis conjectures that they were of the number of the Sicarii, or cutthroats, with which Judea then abounded. See the notes on Acts 21:38. It is needless to remark that this was a most wicked oath. It was a deliberate purpose to commit murder; and it shows the desperate state of morals among the Jews at that time, and the infuriated malice of the people against the apostle, that such an oath could have been taken.

Verse 13

Which had made this conspiracy - This oath συνωμοσίαν sunōmosian, this agreement, or compact. This large number of desperate men, bound by so solemn an oath, would be likely to be successful, and the life of Paul was therefore in special danger. The manner in which they purposed to accomplish their design is stated in Acts 23:15.

Verse 14

And they came ... - Probably by a deputation.

To the chief priests and elders - The members of the Great Council, or Sanhedrin. It is probable that the application was made to the party of the Sadducees, as the Pharisees had shown their determination to defend Paul. They would have had no prospect of success had they attacked the castle, and they therefore devised this mode of obtaining access to Paul, where they might easily despatch him.

Under a great curse - Greek: “We have anathematized ourselves with an anathema.” We have made the vow as solemn as possible.

Verse 15

Ye, with the council - With the concurrence or request of the Sanhedrin. It was only by such a request that they had any hope that the chief captain would remove Paul from the castle.

Signify to the chief captain - Send a message or request to him.

That he bring him down unto you - That he bring him from the castle to the usual place of the meeting of the Sanhedrin. As this was at some distance from the castle of Antonia, where Paul was, they supposed it would be easy to waylay him and take his life.

To-morrow - This is missing in the Syriac, Vulgate, and Ethiopic versions. It is, however, probably the correct reading of the text, as it would be necessary to convene the council, and make the request of the tribune, which might require the whole of one day.

As though ye would inquire ... - This request appeared so reasonable that they did not doubt that the tribune would grant it to the council. And though it was obviously a false and wicked pretence, yet these conspirators knew the character of the persons to whom they addressed themselves so well that they did not doubt that they would prevail on the council to make the request. Public justice must have been deeply fallen when it was known that such an iniquitous request could be made with the certain prospect of success.

Or ever he come near - Before he comes near to the Sanhedrin. The Great Council will thus not be suspected of being privy to the deed. We will waylay him, and murder him in the way. The plan was well laid; and nothing but the interposition of Providence could have prevented its execution.

Verse 16

Paul’s sister’s son - This is all that we know of the family of Paul. Nor do we know for what purpose he was at Jerusalem. It is possible that Paul might have a sister residing there; though, as Paul himself had been sent there formerly for his education, it seems more probable that this young man was sent there for the same purpose.

Entered into the castle - Paul had the privileges of a Roman citizen, and as no well-founded charge had been laid against him, it is probable that he was not very closely confined, and that his friends might have free access to him.

Verse 17

Called one of the centurions - Who might at that time have had special charge of the castle, or been on guard. Paul had the most positive divine assurance that his life would be spared, and that he would yet see Rome; but he always understood the divine promises and purposes as being consistent with his own efforts, and with all proper measures of prudence and diligence in securing his own safety. He did not rest merely on the divine promises without any effort of his own, but he took encouragement from those promises to put forth his own exertions for security and for salvation.

Verse 18

And prayed me - And asked me.

Verse 19

Took him by the hand - As an expression of kindness and civility. He did it to draw him aside from the multitude, that he might communicate his message privately.

Verse 20

And he said ... - In what way this young man had received intelligence of this, we can only conjecture. It is not improbable that he was a student under some one of the Jewish teachers, and that he might have learned it of him. It is not at all probable that the purpose of the 40 men would be very closely kept. Indeed, it is evident that they were not themselves very anxious about concealing their oath, as they mentioned it freely to the chief priests and elders, Acts 23:14.

Verse 21

Looking for a promise from thee - Waiting for your consent to bring him down to them.

Verse 23

And he called unto him two centurions ... - Each centurion had under him 100 men. The chief captain resolved to place Paul beyond the power of the Jews, and to protect him as became a Roman citizen.

Two hundred soldiers - These foot soldiers were designed only to guard Paul until he was safely out of Jerusalem. The horsemen only were intended to accompany him to Caesarea. See Acts 23:32.

And horsemen - These were commonly attached to foot soldiers. In this case, however, they were designed to attend Paul to Caesarea.

And spearmen - δεξιολάβους dexiolabous.” This word is found nowhere else in the New Testament, and occurs in no Classical writer. It properly means those who take, or apprehend by the right hand; and might be applied to those who apprehend prisoners, or to those who hold a spear or dart in the right hand for the purpose of throwing it. Some have conjectured that it should be read δεξιοβόλους dexiobolous - those who cast or throw (a spear) with the right hand. So the Vulgate, the Syriac, and the Arabic understand it. They were probably those who were armed with spears or darts, and who attended on the tribune as a guard.

At the third hour of the night - At nine o’clock. This was in order that it might be done with secrecy, and to elude the band of desperadoes that had resolved to murder Paul. If it should seem that this guard was very numerous for one man, it should be remembered:

  1. That the number of those who had conspired against him was also large; and,
  2. That they were men accustomed to scenes of blood; men of desperate characters who had solemnly sworn that they would take his life.

In order, therefore, to deter them effectually from attacking the guard, it was made very numerous and strong. Nearly 500 men were appointed to guard Paul as he left Jerusalem.

Verse 24

And provide them beasts - One for Paul, and one for each of his attendants. The word translated “beasts” κτήνη ktēnē is of a general character, and may be applied either to horses, camels, or donkeys. The latter were most commonly employed in Judea.

Unto Felix the governor - The governor of Judea. His place of residence was Caesarea, about 60 miles from Jerusalem. See the notes on Acts 8:40. His name was Antonius Felix. He was a freedman of Antonia, the mother of the Emperor Claudius. He was high in the favor of Claudius, and was made by him governor of Judea. Josephus calls him Claudius Felix. He had married three wives in succession that were of royal families, one of whom was Drusilla, afterward mentioned in Acts 24:24, who was sister to King Agrippa. Tacitus (History, v. 9) says that he governed with all the authority of a king, and the baseness and insolence of a slave. “He was an unrighteous governor, a base, mercenary, and bad man” (Clarke). See his character further described in the notes on Acts 24:25.

Verse 26

Unto the most excellent governor Felix - The most honored, etc. This was a mere title of office.

Greeting - A term of salutation in an epistle wishing health, joy, and prosperity.

Verse 27

Should have been killed of them - Was about to be killed by them. The life of Paul had been twice endangered in this manner, Acts 21:30; Acts 23:10.

With an army - With a band of soldiers, Acts 23:10.

Verse 29

Questions of their law - So he understood the whole controversy to be.

Worthy of death - By the Roman law. He had been guilty of no crime against the Roman people.

Or of bonds - Of chains, or of confinement.

Verse 31

To Antipatris - This town was anciently called Cafar-Saba. Josephus says (Antiq., Acts 13:23) that it was about 17 miles from Joppa. It was about 26 miles from Caesarea, and, of course, about 35 miles from Jerusalem. Herod the Great changed its name to Antipatris, in honor of his father Antipater. It was situated in a fine plain, and watered with many springs and fountains. Eli Smith, late missionary to Palestine, who took a journey from Jerusalem to Joppa for the purpose of ascertaining Paul’s route, supposes that the site of Antipatris is the present Kefr Saba. Of this village he gives the following description in the Bibliotheca Sacra for 1843: “It is a Muslim village of considerable size, and wholly like the most common villages of the plain, being built entirely of mud. We saw but one stone building, which was apparently a mosque, but without a minaret. No old ruins, nor the least relic of antiquity, did we anywhere discover. A well by which we stopped, a few rods east of the houses, exhibits more signs of careful workmanship than anything else. It is walled with hewn stone, and is 57 feet deep to the water. The village stands upon a slight circular eminence near the western hills, from which it is actually separated, however, by a branch of the plain.”

Verse 32

They left the horsemen - As they were then beyond the danger of the conspirators, the soldiers who had guarded them thus far returned to Jerusalem.

Verse 34

Of what province he was - Greek: of what heparchy ἐπαρχίας eparchias he was. He knew from the letter of Lysias that he was a Roman, but he was not informed of what place or province he was. This he doubtless did in order to ascertain whether he properly belonged to his jurisdiction. Roman provinces were districts of country which were entrusted to the jurisdiction of procurators. How far the jurisdiction of Felix extended is not certainly known. It appears, however, that it included Cilicia.

Was of Cilicia - Tarsus, the birthplace of Paul, was in this province, Acts 21:39.

Verse 35

In Herod’s judgment hall - Greek: in the praetorium of Herod. The word used here denoted formerly “the tent of the Roman praetor”; and since that was the place where justice was administered, it came to be applied to “halls (courts) of justice.” This had been raised probably by Herod the Great as his palace, or as a place for administering justice. It is probable, also, that prisons, or places of security, would be attached to such places.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 23". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-23.html. 1870.
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