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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Acts 23

Verse 1

1. ] ἀτενίσας seems to describe that peculiar look, connected probably with infirmity of sight, with which Paul has already been described as regarding those before him: and may perhaps account for his not knowing that the person who spoke to him was the high priest, Acts 23:5 . See ch. Acts 13:9 , note.

The purport of Paul’s assertion seems to be this: being charged with neglecting, and teaching others to neglect the law of Moses, he at once endeavours to disarm those who thus accused him, by asserting that up to that day he had lived a true and loyal Jew , obeying, according to his conscience, the law of that divine πολιτεία of which he was a covenant member. Thus πεπολίτευμαι τῷ θεῷ will have its full and proper meaning: and the words are no vain-glorious ones, but an important assertion of his innocence.

Verse 2

2. Ἀνανίας ] He was at this time the actual high priest ( Act 23:4 ). He was the son of Nebedæus (Jos. Antt. xx. 5. 2), succeeded Joseph son of Camydus, Antt. xx. 1. 3; 5. 2, and preceded Ismael, son of Phabi (Antt. xx. 8. 8, 11). He was nominated to the office by Herod, king of Chalcis, in A.D. 48 (Antt. xx. 5. 2); and sent to Rome by Quadratus, the prefect of Syria, to give an account to the emperor Claudius (Antt. xx. 6. 2): he appears, however, not to have lost his office, but to have resumed it on his return. This has been regarded as not certain, and the uncertainty has produced much confusion in the Pauline chronology. But as Wieseler has shewn (Chronol. d. Apostelgeschichte, p. 76, note), there can be no reasonable doubt that it was so, especially as Ananias came off victorious in the cause for which he went to Rome, viz. a quarrel with the Jewish procurator Cumanus, who went with him, and was condemned to banishment (Antt. xx. 6. 3). He was deposed from his office not long before the departure of Felix (Antt. xx. 8. 8), but still had great power, which he used violently and lawlessly (ib. 9. 2): he was assassinated by the sicarii [see ch. Acts 21:38 , note] at last (B. J. ii. 17, 9).

Verse 3

3 .] It is perfectly allowable (even if the fervid rebuke of Paul be considered exempt from blame) to contrast with his conduct and reply that of Him Who, when similarly smitten, answered with perfect and superhuman meekness, John 18:22-23 . Our blessed Saviour is to us, in all His words and acts, the perfect pattern for all under all circumstances : by aiming at whatever He did in each case, we shall do best: but even the greatest of his Apostles are so far our patterns only, as they followed Him , which certainly in this case Paul did not . That Paul thus answered, might go far to excuse a like fervent reply in a Christian or a minister of the gospel, but must never be used to justify it: it may serve for an apology , but never for an example .

τύπτειν σε μέλλει κ.τ.λ. ] Some have seen a prophetic import in these words; see above on the death of Ananias. But I would rather take them as an expression founded on a conviction that God’s just retribution would come on unjust and brutal acts.

τοῖχε κεκον .] Lightfoot’s interpretation, “quod (Ananias) colorem tantum gestaret pontificatus, cum res ipsa evanuerit,” is founded on the hypothesis ( for it is none other ) that the high priesthood was vacant at this time, and Ananias had thrust himself into it. The meaning is as in ref. Matt.; and in all probability Paul referred in thought to our Lord’s saying.

κάθκρίνων με ] This must not be taken as favouring the common interpretation of Acts 23:5 (see below): for the whole Sanhedrim were the judges, and sitting to judge him according to the law.

Verse 4

4 .] Hence we see that not only by the Jews, but by the tribune, who was present, Ananias was regarded as the veritable high priest.

Verse 5

5 .] (1) The ordinary interpretation of these words since Lightfoot, adopted by Michaelis, Eichhorn, Kuinoel, and others, is, that Ananias had usurped the office during a vacancy , and therefore was not recognized by Paul. They regard his being sent to Rome as a virtual setting aside from being high priest, and suppose that Jonathan, who was murdered by order of Felix (Antt. xx. 8. 5), was appointed high priest in his absence. But ( α ) there is no ground whatever for believing that his office was vacated. He won the cause for which he went to Rome, and returned to Jerusalem: it was only when a high priest was detained as hostage in Rome, that we read of another being appointed in his room (Antt. xx. 8. 11): and ( β ) which is fatal to the hypothesis, Jonathan himself ( ὁ ἀρχιερεύς ) was sent to Rome with Ananias (B. J. ii. 12. 6, τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς Ἰωνάθην καὶ Ἀνανίανἀνέπεμψεν ἐπὶ Καίσαρα ). Jonathan was called by the title merely as having been previously high priest. He succeeded Caiaphas, Antt. xviii. 4. 3: and he was not high priest again afterwards, having expressly declined to resume the office, Antt. xix. 6. 4. Nor can any other Jonathan have been elevated to it, for Josephus gives, in every case , the elevation of a new high priest, and his whole number of twenty-eight from Herod the Great to the destruction of Jerusalem (Antt. xx. 10.5.) agrees with the notices thus given. (See Wieseler, Chron. Synops. Deuteronomy 4:0 Evv. p. 187, note: and Biscoe, pp. 48 ff.) So that this interpretation is untenable. (2) Chrys. and most of the ancient Commentators supposed that Paul, having been long absent, was really unacquainted with the person of the high priest. But this can hardly have been: and even if it were, the position and official seat would have pointed out to one, who had been himself a member of the Sanhedrim, the president of the council. (3) Calvin, Camerar., al., take the words ironically: ‘I could not be supposed to know that one who conducted himself so cruelly and illegally, could be the high priest .’ This surely needs no refutation, as being altogether out of place and character. (4) Bengel, Wetst., Kuinoel, Olsh., Neander, al., understand the words as an acknowledgment of rash and insubordinate language, and render οὐκ ᾔδειν , ‘ I did not give it a thought,’ ‘I forgot :’ and so Wordsworth. But as Meyer remarks, ‘reputare’ is never the meaning of εἰδέναι ; and were any pregnant or unusual sense intended, the context (as at 1Th 5:12 ) would suggest it. (5) On the whole then, I believe that the only rendering open to us, consistently with the simple meaning of the words, and the facts of history is, I did not know that it (or he ) was the high priest : and that it is probable that the solution of his ignorance lies in the fact of his imperfect sight he heard the insolent order given, but knew not from whom it proceeded. I own that I am not entirely satisfied with this, as being founded perhaps on too slight premises: but as far as I can see there is no positive objection to it, which there is to every other. The objection stated by Wordsworth, “If St. Paul could not discern that Ananias was high priest, how could he see that he sat there as his judge?” would of course be easily answered by supposing that Paul who had himself been a member of the Sanhedrim may have known Ananias by his voice: or indeed may not (as above) have known him at all personally. It is hardly worth while to notice the rendering given by some, ‘I knew not that there was a high priest .’ Had any such meaning been intended, it would have been further specified by the construction. Besides which, it renders Paul’s apology irrelevant, by eliminating from it the person who is necessarily its subject.

γέγραπται γάρ ] Implying in this, ‘ and the law is the rule of my life .’ Even in this we see the consummate skill of Paul.

Verse 6

6. ] Surely no defence of Paul for adopting this course is required, but all admiration is due to his skill and presence of mind. Nor need we hesitate to regard such skill as the fulfilment of the promise, that in such an hour, the Spirit of wisdom should suggest words to the accused, which the accuser should not be able to gainsay. All prospect of a fair trial was hopeless: he well knew from past and present experience, that personal odium would bias his judges, and violence prevail over justice: he therefore (Neand.) uses, in the cause of Truth, the maxim so often perverted to the cause of falsehood, ‘divide et impera.’ In one tenet above all others, did the religion of Jesus Christ and the belief of the Pharisees coincide that of the resurrection of the dead . That they looked for this resurrection by right of being the seed of Abraham, and denied it to all others, whereas he looked for it through Jesus whom they hated, in whom all should be made alive who had died in Adam, this was nothing to the present point : the belief was common in the truest sense it was the hope of Israel in the truest sense does Paul use and bring it forward to confound the adversaries of Christ. At the same time (De W.) by this strong assertion of his Pharisaic standing and extraction, he was further still vindicating himself from the charge against him. So also ch. Acts 26:7 .

υἱ . Φαρισαίων ] A son of Pharisees , i.e. A Pharisee of Pharisees ,’ ‘by descent from father, grandfather, and upwards, a pure Pharisee.’ This meaning not having been apprehended, the - ων was altered into - ου .

ἐλπ . κ . ἀναστ .] the hope and the resurrection of the dead . The art. is omitted after the prep., see Midd. ch. vi. § 1.

Verse 8

8 .] See note, Matthew 3:7 , for both Pharisees and Sadducees: and for an account of the doctrine of the latter, Jos. Antt. xviii. 1. 4; B. J. ii. 8. 14. In the latter place he says, ψυχῆς τὴν διαμονήν , καὶ τὰς καθ ʼ ᾅδου τιμωρίας καὶ τιμὰς ἀναιροῦσι .

The former μήτε has been altered to μηδέ to suit τὰ ἀμφότερα , because with ἀναστ . μήτε ἄγγ . μήτε πν . three things are mentioned (and thus we have hæc omnia as a var.): whereas, if μηδέ is read, the two last are coupled, and form only one . But τὰ ἀμφ . is used of both things , the one being the resurrection , the other the doctrine of spiritual existences : the two specified classes of the latter being combined generically. τὰ ἀμφ ., them both , both of them , the two .

Verse 9

9. ] The sentence is an aposiopesis, not requiring any filling up: answering to our Engl. But what if a spirit (genus) or an angel (species) have spoken to him ? Perhaps in this they referred to the history of his conversion as told to the people, ch. 22.

On the recent criticism which sees in all this a purpose in the writer to compare Paul with Peter, see Prolegg. to Acts, § iii. 4.

Verse 10

10. ] The fact of all our best MSS. reading φοβηθείς here, and not the unusual word εὐλαβηθείς , must carry it into the text. It is one of those cases where, notwithstanding our strong suspicion that the later MSS. contain the true reading, we are bound to follow our existing authorities: no sufficient subjective reason being assigned for the correction either way.

διασπασθῇ ] to be taken literally , not as merely = ‘ should be killed .’ The Pharisees would strive to lay hold of him to rescue him: the Sadducees, to destroy him, or at all events to secure him. Between them both, there was danger of his being pulled asunder by them .

Verse 11

11. ] By these few words, the Lord assured him (1) of a safe issue from his present troubles ; (2) of an accomplishment of his intention of visiting Rome ; (3) of the certainty that however he might be sent thither, he should preach the gospel, and bear testimony there . So that they upheld and comforted him (1) in the uncertainty of his life from the Jews : (2) in the uncertainty of his liberation from prison at Cæsarea : (3) in the uncertainty of his surviving the storm in the Mediterranean : (4) in the uncertainty of his fate on arriving at Rome . So may one crumb of divine grace and help be multiplied to feed five thousand wants and anxieties.

εἰς , see reff. and ch. Acts 2:39 , pregnant.

Verse 12

12. ] οἱ Ἰουδ . as opposed to Paul, the subject of the former verse. The copyists thought it unlikely that all the Jews were engaged in it, and so altered it to τινες τῶν Ἰουδ ., and then transposed it for euphony.

Wetstein and Lightf. adduce instances of similar conspiracies, not to eat or drink till some object be gained. See 1 Samuel 14:24 ff.; and Jos. Antt. xv. 8. 3, 4.

Verse 14

14. ] It is understood from the narrative that it was to the Sadducees , among the chief priests and elders, that the murderers went. That the high priest belonged to this sect, cannot be inferred with any accuracy.

Verse 15

15. ] σὺν τῷ συνεδρ . belongs to ὑμεῖς , or perhaps better to ἐμφανίσατε do you give official intimation (intimation conveyed by the whole Sanhedrim).

ὅπως expresses the purpose of ἐμφαν ., τοῦ ἀν . αὑτ ., that of ἕτοιμοί ἐσμ . (Meyer).

διαγιν . ἀκρ .] not as E. V. ‘ enquire something more perfectly :’ but (see reff.) to determine with greater accuracy , or perhaps, neglecting the comparative sense, to determine accurately .

Verse 16

16 .] It is quite uncertain whether Paul’s sister’s son lived in Jerusalem, or had accompanied him thither. The ἡμᾶς of ch. Acts 20:5 , will include more than merely Luke. But from this knowledge of the plot, which presupposes other acquaintances than he would have been likely to make if he had come with Paul, I should suppose him to have been domiciled at Jerusalem, possibly under instruction, as was formerly Paul himself, and thus likely, in the schools, to have heard the scheme spoken of.

Verse 21

21. ( τὴν ) ἐπαγγελίαν ] not, ‘ an order ’ (as Rosenm., al.), nor ‘ a message ’ (as Grot., Beza, Wolf, al.): but the [not a , as E. V.] promise (to that effect): as constantly in N. T.

Verse 22

22. ] ὅτι με , a variation of person, as in reff.

Verse 23

23. δύο τινάς ] some two : see reff., and Winer, edn. 6, § 25. 2. b .

στρατιώτας , the ordinary heavy-armed legionary soldiers: distinguished below from the ἱππεῖς and δεξιολάβοι .

δεξιολάβους ] This word has never been satisfactorily explained. Suidas, Phavorinus, Beza, Kuin., al, explain it παραφύλακες : Meursius, in his Glossarium Græcobarbarum, a kind of military lictors , παρὰ τὸ λαβεῖν τὴν τοῦ δεσμίου δεξιάν ; the Vulgate, lancearios (spearmen , E. V.): Meyer, a sort of light-armed troops, rorarii or velites , either jaculatores or funditores . He quotes a passage from Constantine Porphyrogenitus ( οἱ δὲ λεγόμενοι τουρμάρχαι εἰς ὑπουργίαν τῶν στρατηγῶν ἐτάχθησαν . σημαίνει δὲ τοιοῦτον ἀξίωμα τὸν ἔχοντα ὑφ ʼ ἑαυτὸν στρατιώτας τοξοφόρους πεντακοσίους , καὶ πελταστὰς τριακοσίους , καὶ δεξιολάβους ἑκατόν ) where they are distinguished from bowmen and peltastæ, and derives the name from grasping the weapon with the right hand , which the peltastæ and bowmen could not be said to do. The reading of Α, δεξιοβόλους ( jaculantes dextrâ Syr.), is apparently a correction.

Verse 24

24. διασώσωσιν ] escort safe the whole way .

Φήλικα ] FELIX was a freedman of the Emperor Claudius: Suidas and Zonaras gave him the prænomen of Claudius , but Tacit. (Ann. xii. 54) calls him Antonius Felix, perhaps from Antonia, the mother of Claudius, as he was brother of Pallas, who was a freedman of Antonia (Tacit. ib. and Jos. Antt. xx. 7. 1). He was made sole procurator of Judæa after the deposition of Cumanus (having before been three years joint procurator with him, Tacit. ib.) principally by the influence of the high priest Jonathan (Antt. xx. 8. 5), whom he afterwards procured to be murdered (ibid.). Of his character Tacitus says, ‘Antonius Felix per omnem sævitiam et libidinem jus regium servili ingenio exercuit,’ Hist. Acts 23:9 . His procuratorship was one series of disturbances, false messiahs, sicarii and robbers, and civil contests, see Jos. Antt. xx. 8. 5, 6, and 7. He was eventually (A.D. 60) recalled, and accused by the Cæsarean Jews, but acquitted at the instance of his brother Pallas (Antt. xx. 8. 10). On his wife Drusilla, see note, ch. Acts 24:24 .

Verse 25

25. ] [ περι ] έχ ., τύπ ., see reff.

Verse 26

26. κρατίστῳ ] See ref. Luke.

This letter seems to be given (translated from the Latin) as written , not merely according to its general import (see the false statement in Act 23:27 ): from what source , is impossible to say, but it may be imagined that the contents transpired through some officers at Jerusalem or at Cæsarea friendly to Paul.

Such letters were called elogia : so Modestin. Dig. lib. 49, tit. 16, leg. 3 (Facciolati): ‘Desertorem auditum ad suum ducem cum elogio præses mittet,’ ‘with an abstract of the articles brought against him.’

Verse 27

27. σὺν τῷ στρ .] with the troop ; see above Acts 23:10 , and note, ch. Acts 21:32 .

ἐξειλ . μαθὼν ὅτι . ἐστιν ] This was an attempt to conceal the fault that he had committed , see ch. Acts 22:29 . For this assertion cannot refer to the second rescue, see next verse.

Verse 30

30. ] Two constructions are combined here: (1) μηνυθείσης ἐπιβουλῆς τῆς ἐσομένης , and (2) μηνυθέντος , ἐπιβουλὴν ἔσεσθαι .

Verse 31

31 .] ANTIPATRIS, forty-two Roman miles from Jerusalem, and twenty-six from Cæsarea, was built by Herod the Great, and called in honour of his father. It was before called Kapharsaba (Jos. Antt. xiii. 15. 1; xvi. 5. 2). In Jerome’s time (Epitaph. Paulæ, 8, vol. i. p. 696) it was a ‘semirutum oppidum’ (Winer, Realw.).

They might have well made so much way during the night and the next day, for the text will admit of that interpretation, τῇ ἐπαύρ . being not necessarily the morrow after they left Jerusalem , but after they arrived at Antipatris .

Verse 32

32. τοὺς ἱππεῖς ] As they had now the lesser half of their journey before them, and that furthest removed from Jerusalem. The δεξιολάβοι appear to have gone back with tbe soldiers.

Verse 35

35. διακούς . ] ‘The expression is in conformity with the Roman law; the rule was, “Qui cum elogio mittuntur, ex integro audiendi sunt .” ’ Hackett.

ἐν τῷ πραιτ . τ . Ἡρ .] The procurator resided in the former palace of Herod the Great. Here Paul was ‘militi traditus’ (Digest. cited by De W.), not in a prison, but in the buildings attached to the palace.

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Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Acts 23". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.