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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Acts 23

Verses 1-5

Paul in Conflict With the High Priest

Paul turned to the Council and addressed them. He is not questioned first, but immediately takes the floor. He is on the same level as them, for they are both parties to the government represented by the commander. With his opening words “brethren”, he again makes clear the bond he has with them, he identifies himself with them and assures himself of their attention.

He begins with the testimony of a perfectly good conscience before God. He has always had this (2 Timothy 1:3), even when he persecuted the church. After all, he believed he was offering a service to God (John 16:2). It shows how relative the conscience is. His change, his conversion, has no consequences for the functioning of his conscience. Even after his conversion he did nothing else than what he was convinced of before God. He is always careful to keep his conscience free from any charge against himself (Acts 24:1).

A good conscience can be kept when one performs sincerely and severely everything to which this conscience instigates. At the same time, the conscience is a strictly personal matter. Only if it is subject to God’s Word can it function in a way that is a blessing to others and to the honor of God. Precisely because the conscience is so strongly personal, it is not a strong argument for defending a decision. It is very subjective and cannot be controlled by anyone.

These words about his conscience are the only words Paul can say. He does not get a chance to say anything about the Lord Jesus. The high priest is very annoyed, possibly both by Paul’s promptness and by what Paul says. How dare this apostate Jew speak about a walk before God with a good conscience! He immediately wants the initiative back and takes it by ordering that Paul be forcibly silenced. When Paul hears this, he immediately reacts with a sharp remark. His answer is justified, but it does not reveal the gentleness of Christ (cf. Mark 14:60-1 John :). The judgment Paul makes here has the character of a prophecy which, according to profane history, has also come true.

The expression which Paul uses for the high priest, “whitewashed wall”, he did not invent himself. He borrowed it from the prophet Ezekiel, who uses this expression for the hypocritical rulers of Israel who led the people astray (Ezekiel 13:10; cf. Matthew 23:27). Their manner of speaking resembled the use of white lime, which covered cracks and holes so that they could no longer be seen. Their words not only made the cracked state among the people invisible, but gave it a beautiful appearance. God, however, will reveal and judge this state of affairs.

The bystanders are outraged by the scolding of the high priest. For them it is the high priest of God. Apparently the high priest is not dressed in his ministerial habit and therefore not recognizable as such for Paul. It is also possible that Paul did not see him well. He had bad eyes (Galatians 4:15; Galatians 6:11). Paul shows respect for the ministry, not for the man. Nor does he speak of ‘the high priest of God’.

However, he does accept the correction for his outburst because he is reminded internally of a word from Scripture (Exodus 22:28). The Word brings Paul to confession. The quoted word is not about a high priest, but about someone who has authority over the people. The principle is general and therefore also applies to the high priest, because of his ministry, no matter how unworthy the man may behave in that ministry.

Paul does not try to put his statement into perspective by explaining the text differently. This is an example for us. What the Lord could say does not apply to him: “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? (John 8:46). Nor would the Lord ever have to say: ‘I did not know.’ He answered the high priest in a perfectly dignified manner and also received a slap in the face for this. His response was as perfectly worthy as His earlier remark (John 18:22-Isaiah :).

Verses 6-10

Paul Causes Division in the Council

Paul sees that there is no willingness whatsoever to listen to him. Then he uses his knowledge of both parties to play them off against each other. When they turn on each other, a unanimous condemnation of him is far away. He knows that one part of the Council consists of Pharisees and the other part of Sadducees. With a loud voice he addresses the Council again with “brethren”. Then he declares that he is a Pharisee, not because he joined this guild, but because his father was already a Pharisee, making it clear which of the two groups of the Council he is connected with. At first that group will have experienced this as anything but an honor.

Then Paul comes up with the statement which leads to division in the Council. He is a Pharisee who stands trial over the hope and the resurrection of the dead. In the Council the two groups kept well with each other, avoiding the things that separated them. But now that this doctrinal matter is brought into their midst, it becomes a point of conflict.

Paul’s statement that he is a Pharisee is not false, but it is below the level of his own words in Philippians 3 (Philippians 3:7). There he distances himself from this, because in the light of Who Christ is, that fact has no meaning for him. Nor does Paul speak about the resurrection from the dead, the truth connected with the glorified Christ who returns for His own, but about the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of the dead is confessed by every God-fearing Jew and even by God-fearing pagans (Job 19:25-Daniel :).

The spirit, the atmosphere of the company in which Paul finds himself, asserts its influence on his testimony. Paul is in the process of proving his faithfulness to the law and this includes being a Pharisee. This includes the resurrection as the hope of Israel. As a Pharisee he speaks about the Messianic hope of Israel because the hope of Israel is the Messiah. He seeks what binds them as Jews and that is the expectation of the Messiah.

The fight that ensues between the Pharisees and Sadducees is not a fight for Paul or for the truth, but for the party. Party people look at everything from the point of view of the party and not from the independent source of God’s Word. Sadducees are the liberals. What they cannot prove, they do not believe. That is why they say that there is no resurrection and also that there are no angels and spirits.

That was also apparent from their lives. Life on earth was everything to them. They bathed in luxury and indulged in the crudest forms of pleasure. They lived exuberantly according to the principle: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). Yet they saw themselves as orthodox, because they believed the five books of Moses, the superior books of the Jews. They said to strictly abide by the law of Moses, which for them was the Word of God.

The Pharisees did believe all the books of the Bible, i.e. the Old Testament, and thus also in the resurrection and angels and spirits. They had a Messianic expectation. However, they had added many things to God’s Word. Therefore, in the eyes of the Sadducees, they were the liberals.

If we know the confession of the Sadducees, it is not surprising that in Acts especially the Sadducees reveal themselves as the enemies of the gospel. After all, in Acts the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is preached with great power. During the life of the Lord Jesus, the Pharisees revealed themselves as His adversaries, which is not surprising either, in the light of their confession connected to their unbelief.

The result of Paul’s ‘dexterity’ is telling. His performance before the Sanhedrin gives a minimum of testimony and a maximum of confusion. A great shouting ensues, with the predominance of some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ part. The scribes of the Pharisees become cautious because of what Paul said. Imagine that this man had a message from the invisible world. Instead of denouncing Paul further, they now declare that they are on his side to form a front with him against the Sadducees.

The commander who has watched everything so far fears for Paul’s life again. He intervenes for the second time to prevent Paul from being murdered by his own people.

Verse 11

Paul Is Encouraged by the Lord

Paul will not have felt happy. This is not because his ruse failed, because if he had deliberately expressed his faith in the resurrection in order to set the two parties against each other, then that ruse had succeeded. Above all, his discouragement will be that his testimony was not accepted, that he did not even have the opportunity to testify. When he is in prison, in the darkness of his cell and the darkness of the night, with despair in his heart, the Lord appears to him. He makes it light for him, so that the darkness has to depart.

The Lord does not blame Paul. This fact alone should lead us to be cautious in our judgment of the way Paul has gone. In his discouragement the Lord meets him. The Lord knows from experience what it is like when your service is rejected and you get the feeling that everything has been in vain (Isaiah 49:4).

The testimony Paul gave in Jerusalem did not bring him what he hoped for. He may see it as a failure, through his own fault. But see there the judgment of the Lord. The Lord sees his testimony in Jerusalem as sufficient and adds that he must also testify in Rome in the same way. Even though there are no direct results attached to a testimony, the Lord knows how to appreciate it. With the encouragement to “take courage” He cheers up Paul (cf. Acts 18:9-2 Samuel :; Acts 27:22-Lamentations :; 2 Timothy 4:16-Esther :).

Verses 12-15

A Conspiracy Against Paul

The Jews are furious that there has been no condemnation of Paul. Their great enemy is still alive and that is intolerable to them. That is why they decide to take the law into their own hands. Over forty Jews form a plot, a conspiracy, to kill Paul. They are so serious that they bind themselves under an oath. Their oath means that they will not eat or drink until they have killed Paul. They must have broken this oath or they must have died of hunger, because their conspiracy is discovered, as it turns out.

There are forty of them who go to the chief priests and the elders, who mainly belong to the party of the Sadducees. Nothing is said here about the Pharisees, to whom mainly the scribes belong. After all, they are no longer so keen on the death of Paul. The first thing they say is what they have imposed on themselves because of their boundless hatred of Paul. They are filled with only one thing, and that is his death.

They present their plan to the Council. The Council must make it clear to the commander that he must bring Paul to them again. The excuse is that they want to investigate his affairs more thoroughly. They will then lay an ambush in order to kill him from that ambush when he is on his way to the Council. The few men who will accompany him they can cope with, with their forty.

Verses 16-22

Paul’s Nephew Discovers the Conspiracy

Man can think of so much, but God is above all. Man, who makes plans without God, is always ashamed. To thwart the evil plan of the Jews, God is this time using a relative of Paul. We hear here of a sister of Paul and her son, thus Paul’s nephew. After this event we hear nothing more from them. They appear on stage for a moment because God wants them to.

Every time God works, He does so in His own and often surprising way. There is no standard procedure that He uses for His work. He doesn’t come to Paul again in a vision to warn him. He uses ordinary ways. He controls the circumstances in such a way, that Paul’s nephew hears of the conspiracy. He reports this to Paul.

If Paul hears this, it is a lawful means for him, which he gladly uses to report an evil matter and thus to guarantee his safety. The Lord’s promise in Acts 23:11 does not make him fatalistic. He will have known his nephew as a reliable young man who does not come to him with fabrications.

Paul calls one of the centurions to him. This means that Paul has a certain degree of freedom and also a certain degree of respect among his guards. He asks the guard to bring his nephew to the commander because he has something to report to him. No explanation follows. The guard does what Paul tells him to do and brings Paul’s nephew to the commander. Correctly the guard reports the request of “Paul the prisoner “, a name which Paul also uses for himself several times (Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:8; cf. Philippians 1:7; Philippians 1:13Philippians 1:17).

The commander takes the young man seriously because he comes on behalf of Paul and he has got to know “Paul the prisoner” somewhat in the meantime. This special prisoner must have impressed this rather hardened man. It will be the same for him if it happened to the centurion who, at the cross of the Lord Jesus, also came to the conviction that he was dealing with an innocent One [literally “righteous” One] (Luke 23:47).

Of course in all this we see the hand of the Lord of whom Paul is first and foremost a prisoner. He also controls the feelings of a hardened man who, like Paul, takes the young man seriously. With his keen sense of imminent danger, he takes Paul’s nephew aside. What this young man has to tell him is not meant for other people’s ears.

He invites the young man to tell him what he has to report. Then Paul’s nephew reports his discovery. He tells about the agreement the Jews made with the Council to ask the commander to bring Paul to the Council. He tells them the reason for this request. The young man tells in detail what the forty men proposed to the Council.

Luke does not mention how he found out. An obvious explanation could be that a secret to be kept by over forty men is difficult to keep. In such a large company, a leak easily occurs. But even then, it is questionable whether such a thing is heard first hand and in such detail, or through a whole circuit of rumors. Either way, the Lord has ensured that Paul’s nephew has heard of the conspiracy and knows exactly how it was put together.

Paul’s nephew is not a little boy. He can think independently and also conclude. To underline the seriousness of the matter he urges the commander not to allow himself to be fooled by the Council. It seems that the commander has already received the Council’s request when Paul’s nephew comes to tell him his discovery. The young man says that the Council is “ready and waiting for the promise from you”. It also makes the story plausible to the commander. Otherwise he could have waited for the request and checked whether the young man’s story was true.

The commander recognizes the threat, because in the meantime he has become well acquainted with the Jews’ hatred of Paul. He orders the young man not to talk to anyone about the content of their conversation and lets him go. With this, this family member disappears from the scene. For a moment, the Lord has used him for His purpose. Now the Lord takes the commander by the hand again, without him being aware of it, so that the commander can get his prisoner Paul where the Lord wants him to be: in Rome.

I think that “the voice of an archangel” especially regards the believers of Israel. In the Bible there is mention of just one archangel, which is Michael (Jude 1:9). He is specially related to Israel (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21Daniel 12:1).

Verses 23-30

Lysias’ Letter to Felix

The commander does not waste any time. He gives orders with a view to the transport of Paul. The hour of departure is fixed at the third hour of the night, that is nine o’clock in the evening. The size of the escort is not for the safety of Paul as a Christian, but as a Roman. The commander would make a bad turn if under his reign a Roman would be killed.

The commander takes the matter extremely seriously because he knows how fanatical religious people are. That is why he sends an army of no less than 272 men to protect Paul. He even puts a riding animal at Paul’s disposal, so that he doesn’t have to walk. His intention is to transfer Paul to Caesarea, where the governor Felix lives. The case has grown over his head, he feels, and Felix as his superior and responsible for the legal order in Judea has to give his opinion on this.

In order to explain the transfer of the prisoner, the superior writes a letter to Felix, the content of which is communicated to us by Luke. We don’t know how Luke found out about the content of the letter. In the same way, the superior could not suspect that what he meant only for Felix is now read by all who read the Bible. That does not mean that his letter was inspired, but that Luke was inspired to include this letter in God’s Word. There are also statements from unbelievers and even from the devil in the Bible. Unbelievers or the devil are not inspired, but the Bible writer who mentions these words is.

From the beginning of the letter, we get the name of the man about whom we have read so much and who until now has always been referred to as “commander”. This commander is called Claudius Lysias, further on called “the commander Lysias”.

In his letter Lysias reports about the reason for sending Paul to the governor. Thereby he gives the facts as they are advantageous for himself with the result that he violates the truth here and there. He did not relieve Paul at all because he had heard that Paul was a Roman. He only heard that fact from Paul when he wanted to have him scourged. He makes it more beautiful than it really was. Furthermore, he gives a correct account of the events.

Moreover, it is important to note that in this official letter it is recorded that Paul did nothing worthy of death or imprisonment. Again, the pagans testify of Paul’s innocence. The letter also shows that he has informed the accusers of Paul’s transfer to Caesarea and that they can join them there to bring their charges against Paul.

Verses 31-35

Paul Sent to Felix

The transport of the prisoner begins. As befits good soldiers, they act according to the orders of their superior (Matthew 8:9) and pick up Paul. The first part of the journey takes place at night and is aimed at Antipatris. The next day the foot soldiers return and the horsemen continue with Paul in their midst to Caesarea. In Caesarea they go to the governor Felix and give him the letter from Claudius Lysias explaining the reason for their visit. That reason is also placed in front of him in the person of Paul.

After reading the letter, Felix asks which province Paul comes from. The answer is that he comes from Cilicia, where Tarsus is also situated. That doesn’t fall under Felix’s authority, but he doesn’t see any reason to send Paul to that district. Perhaps he didn’t want to hurt the Jews too much who would have to travel all the way to Cilicia to express their accusations.

He tells Paul that he will interrogate him as soon as his accusers have arrived. Roman law prescribed that the accused and the accusers had to appear in court together. The accusers could then put forward their accusations, after which the accused was given the opportunity to refute them.

After his communication to Paul, Felix ordered that Paul be kept in Herod’s Praetorium. The Praetorium of Herod is the palace built by Herod the Great, which was intended by the Romans as the governor’s residence.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/acts-23.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.