ACTS CHAPTER 23
Acts 23:1-5 Paul, pleading his integrity, is smitten at the
command of the high priest, whom he reproveth of injustice.
Acts 23:6-9 By declaring himself a Pharisee, and questioned for the hope
of the resurrection, he causeth a division in the council.
Acts 23:10,11 He is carried back to the castle, and encouraged by the
Lord in a vision.
Acts 23:12-22 A conspiracy against him is discovered to the chief captain,
Acts 23:23-35 who sendeth him under a guard with a letter to Felix
the governor at Caesarea.
Said, Men and brethren; acknowledging himself to have descended from the patriarchs as well as they; and bespeaks, as much as he could, their favour and attention.
I have lived in all good conscience; not that he thought himself to have been without sin or fault, for he acknowledges and bewails his captivity to the law of sin, Romans 7:23,24; but that he was not conscious to himself of any notorious impiety (as sacrilege, which they accused him of); nay, he had not suffered willingly any sin to be, much less to reign, in him. And as for his persecuting of the Christians, he did it not to flatter any with it, or upon any sinister design whatsoever, but thinking to serve God by it, 1 Timothy 1:13.
Before God; in the sense of God’s seeing of him, and whom St. Paul acknowledges to be the searcher and knower of the heart and conscience.
Them that stood by him; the officers, probably.
To smite him on the mouth; thus Micaiah was smote by Zedekiah the false prophet, 1 Kings 22:24, and Jeremiah by Pashur, Jeremiah 20:2; and our blessed Lord escaped not this suffering and indignity, John 18:22. Now this was the rather inflicted on Paul, because of his protesting of his innocency, which did reflect upon the council, as being injurious; but it was indeed no more than what was necessary in his own just defence, and for the glory of the gospel.
Thou whited wall; an excellent similitude to represent wicked men, especially hypocrites, by, who counterfeit God’s glory and worship, whilst they intend only their own profit or grandeur. Thus our Saviour compared the scribes and Pharisees unto whited sepulchres, Matthew 23:27. Whited sepulchres and walls, though they seem fair and comely, have within nothing but rottenness and useless rubbish. Now these words are not to be looked upon as a curse or imprecation upon the high priest, which does not consist with the temper of the gospel; but they are rather to be taken as a prophecy or prediction, St. Paul having on occasion had the gift of prophecy amongst the other gifts of the Holy Ghost. And accordingly it is observed, that this high priest either died, or was put out of his place, soon after. And thus Paul’s imprecation upon Alexander the coppersmith, mentioned 2 Timothy 4:14, is to be understood; as also several other curses (seemingly wished) by holy men, especially in the Psalms, as Psalms 109:6,7, &c., and many other places, which are by no means for our imitation; neither were they spoken so much as the wishes or prayers of such as uttered them, as their prophecies or prections; which we know came to pass; as that now mentioned was fulfilled in the person of Judas.
Contrary to the law; it was contrary to all law, Divine and human, that any should be punished before that he was heard; and especially to their own judicial law, which in matters of this nature they were yet governed by under the Romans. Now the Jews were first to hear and inquire diligently, whether the matter any were accused of were true, before they might give sentence, or inflict any punishment upon them, Deuteronomy 17:4.
These partial parasites take no notice of the real injury done unto Paul by the high priest, and readily catch at the seeming calumny spoke by Paul against him.
I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest; Paul does not here ironically say this, because the high priest had, contrary to his place and office, caused him to be smitten; but either:
1. Because he knew now no high priest on earth, but only Christ in heaven to be our High Priest, Hebrews 8:1. Or rather:
2. Because the high priests being so often changed, (insomuch as in one year sometimes they have had three), and they being in a confusion at this time, and not meeting or sitting in their due place and order, Paul might very well be ignorant who that was, who in such a multitude had commanded that they should smite him.
Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people; the scripture here cited by St. Paul, is Exodus 22:28.
I am a Pharisee; in his former profession, opinion, and conversation; and now also in the points that were controverted betwixt them: and St. Paul, with his dove like innocency, does in this but make use of the serpentine subtlety, to preserve himself, and to gain credit unto the truths of the gospel.
The son of a Pharisee; the son of Pharisees, in the plural; either for several descents his ancestors had been of that sect; or that both his father and his mother were of it.
Of the hope and resurrection; or, for the hope of the resurrection; an hendyadis: although he did not agree with the Pharisees in all their opinions, yet in this he did; and the resurrection was the common subject he preached upon: and the gospel does give us the best proof and evidence of it; insomuch that Paul was taxed for preaching Jesus and the resurrection, Acts 17:18; and unless there be a resurrection, his preaching was vain, and his faith vain, 1 Corinthians 15:13,14.
Not only of the common people, or standers-by, but of the senators and judges; God by this means dividing and infatuating of them, that they could not bring about Paul’s intended destruction.
The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection; against this our Saviour argued, Matthew 22:23, &c.
Neither angel; it seems strange that they should deny that there were angels, whereas they owned the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, in which mention is made frequently of angels: but it seems that they understood those places allegorically, either for good instincts, or apparitions caused by God to manifest his mind by them unto men, wresting those places to their own destruction.
Nor spirit; they denied the existence of the soul of man, as different from the crasis and temperament of his body; and therefore believed that the soul perished with the body. Nay, they were so far from believing there was any spirit, that they held, blasphemously, that God himself was corporeal.
But the Pharisees confess both; the three things here mentioned, which the Sadducees denied, may be well spoken of as but two, viz. the resurrection and the existence of spirits. When men sin with much obstinacy against supernatural light, God justly withdraws from them even natural light, and they are, punished (as the Egyptians were) with such darkness which may be felt, Exodus 10:21.
Scribe is a name denoting an office or place; and the sribes were men skilled in the law.
A spirit or an angel; ome take the latter to be exegetical of the former, and that by a spirit is only meant an angel; by such messengers God many times sending his messages to the children of men. Yet others by spirit understand prophetical revelation, and the Spirit of prophecy, which was expected to be shed abroad in large measures about that time; as appears, John 7:39.
Let us not fight against God: See Poole on "Acts 5:39".
A great dissension: feuds about pretended religion are usually among all men very sharp, because their opinions, being the issues of their own brains, are more beloved than their children, the fruit of their bodies.
Commanded the soldiers to go down; from the fort or castle, unto which there was an ascent or stair, to go up and down by.
The Lord stood by him; in a revelation appearing inwardly to his mind; which is the rather thought to have been so, because it is here said to have been in the night; but whether by vision or revelation, it is all one as to this purpose, and neither were unfrequent unto Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:1.
Be of good cheer: so true it is what our Saviour had promised and foretold, John 16:33, In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in me ye shall have peace.
If they did not kill Paul before they did eat or drink any more, they wished that they might become a cherem, or anathema; as Jericho and the inhabitants thereof were, being devoted to utter ruin and destruction. Or, if they did not execute this their wicked design, they would yield themselves to be anathematized, or excommunicated, as those that had broken their pact or agreement.
They made themselves sure (they thought) of killing Paul; there were above forty to one. The church’s enemies are unanimous and resolute. As David formerly, so might now Paul say, They that are mad against me are sworn against me, Psalms 102:8.
They came to the chief priests and elders, whose place and office it was to have dissuaded such an abominable murder: For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, Malachi 2:7. And they could not but have been guilty of the blood of St. Paul, had it been shed, who by encouraging the design became accessory unto it. But they had drank blood very largely before now; viz. the blood of St. Stephen, and the blood of our Saviour; and it is no wonder that they thirst for more: such wild beasts, (rather than men), when they have once tasted of blood, are never satisfied with it. But at what a low ebb was religion, when the chief priests themselves combine with assassins!
Ye with the council; the chief priests are to join with the council in this desire to the chief captain; for they had no authority to command him.
As though ye would inquire something more perfectly concerning him: the plot against Paul’s life was laid very deep, and not easily to be discovered; it being usual to send for prisoners to re-examine them, especially when religion and the public peace are concerned, as they pretended that here they were.
Or ever he come near: the space between the castle and the place where the council met, being considerable, it gave the greater advantage to the conspirators.
Paul’s sister’s son, who is thought to have been one of Paul’s company: but the hatred against Paul by the Jews being so general, because of his (supposed) profaning of the temple, they were not so curious who they spake to of this confederacy and design. Or rather, there is no counsel against God: the very birds of the air, if need were, shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter, Ecclesiastes 10:20. For he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision, Psalms 2:4.
The chief captain having the command of a thousand soldiers, there were ten captains under him: one of these Paul intrusts with his message to the chief captain, not making any particular request unto the chief captain, supposing him to have so much of the Roman justice in him, that when he understood his case, he would provide for his saftety; which he was not mistaken in.
The centurion took Paul’s kinsman, and went with him, as he was desired, unto the chief captain, that there might be no mistake, but that he might hear all out of the young man’s own mouth, and be the more affected with it.
The prisoner, or, the chained; for it was customary to chain their prisoners for their greater security. And God is now remembering of Paul in his bonds.
He took him by the hand, as a token of courtesy; these commanders showing an excellent example of humanity and pity towards their inferiors and supposed criminals. There are several reasons given of this great civility here used, as the chief captain’s naturally meek temper; or his policy to satisfy for the injury he had done to Paul, in binding him, being a Roman; nay, some think that he, as well as Felix the governor, hoped for money to be given unto him, Acts 24:26: but all these are but guesses. It is sure, whatever any of these causes were or were not, God is to be seen and acknowledged in it, who hath the hearts of all men in his bands, and turneth them as it pleaseth him, Proverbs 21:1.
The Jews; both the council, and those forty and upwards spoken of, in Acts 23:12,13.
Do not thou yield unto them; this the young man desires out of his care for his uncle’s (Paul’s) preservation, as also touched with the horror of the fact if it should have been executed; and howsoever, by this means he delivers his own soul, having done his utmost to hinder it.
Now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee; the match is laid, the hand is as it were lifted up, nothing is wanting to Paul’s destruction but the chief captain’s consent, which the Jews assuredly expected, it being but a small courtesy to grant them, to examine a prisoner, especially such a one as upon their complaint was committed in a case cognizable by them: but, Deus e machina, Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand; for God is with us, Isaiah 8:10.
The chief captain shows by this his care, both for St. Paul, and for the young man too; for had it been known that he had discovered their conspiracy, they would have sought his life, and might divers ways have taken it away; and as for Paul, being disappointed in this, they would have made other attempts against him.
Make ready two hundred soldiers; two hundred were the usual proportion or number of men which were under the two centurions; so that they were commanded to have their companies in readiness.
And horsemen threescore and ten; horsemen being usually added for defence of their foot soldiers.
Spearmen, as they are called here, were such as handled, or threw, their javelins or darts with their right hand. Some think them to have been such as our serjeants, who take men into custody; others, that they were soldiers raised out of foreign nations, and lightly armed.
At the third hour of the night; partly because in those hot countries it is very troublesome to travel by day, and partly for the greater security of Paul and such as went with him.
What a strong guard and retinue does God by his providence get together for the safe guarding of Paul! None of all these intended the least good unto him; but God can make use of them as effectually as if they had had the greatest good will for him.
It is not certain whether the following words were the letter itself, or only the sum or contents of the letter.
Most excellent; a title given to persons of great eminency, as, Luke 1:3, it is given to Theophilus, unto whom also this book of the Acts is inscribed, Acts 1:1.
This Felix was brother to one Pallas, who together with Narcissus (the other of the emperor Claudius’s favourites) managed all public affairs, and are by the historians branded for all the mischiefs of that calamitous time. This Felix and his brother Pallas were born slaves, and manumitted by Claudius, and were such as are exalted; as often Providence will show the power it hath in pulling down and setting up whom it pleaseth.
He represents Paul’s case fairly and indifferently, God overruling his heart and pen; but withal, he conceals his binding of him, and instead thereof magnifies his care of him, being a Roman; and probably being touched with a sense of his fault, he represents Paul’s case the better.
The council understanding those questions (as he thought) best, and having yet retained some power fron the Romans concerning them.
According to the Roman laws, or imperial constitutions. That he undervalued the great things in question concerning our blessed Saviour’s death and resurrection, and the whole gospel, it is not to be wondered at; he spake and wrote as a pagan; and God overruled his very slighting of these controversies for Paul’s advantage, he being by that means preserved from the rage of his enemies.
The Jews laid wait for the man; this reflects upon the Jews, as being seditious, and ready to attempt against the government; as also gives the governor an account why he troubled him with this prisoner, and why he sent so great a guard with him.
Farewell; the usual prayer wherewith they ended their letters, as in Acts 15:29.
Not that they came to Antipatris by night; but they began that journey by night, as Acts 23:23, and went as much of it as they could by night, for fear of being discovered, and attempted upon by the Jews.
This Antipatris was built by Herod the Great, and so called in memory of his father Antipater; it was about seventeen leagues from Jerusalem, pleasantly situated upon the Mediterranean Sea, between Joppa and Caesarea.
The footmen returned to the castle or fort of Antonia in Jerusalem, from whence they did set out, there being no fear of any such design upon Paul at that distance from Jerusalem, which the horsemen might not easily avoid.
Caesarea; Caesarea Stratonis, as it was called, to difference it from the other.
They presented Paul, as being their charge, whom they had safely kept, and now delivered according to appointment.
He asked of what province he was; Palestine and the countries thereabouts being divided into several heptarchies or jurisdictions, the governors were very loth to infringe the limits of one another.
Of Cilicia; a country in Asia Minor, in which was Tarsus where Paul was born, and from his birth place he is reckoned to belong to that province.
I will hear thee thoroughly, the whole matter, as the preposition dia, here used, does import; and as it is commanded unto all judges, Deuteronomy 1:16.
When thine accusers are also come; for this the dictate of nature did teach the very heathen, that both parties ought to be heard before anything were determined: Qui aliquid statuerit parte inaudita altera: That whosoever pronounced any sentence before both sides were fully heard, were the sentence never so just, yet the judge was unjust.
Herod’s judgment-hall; a palace where the governors were lodged, built by Herod the Great, when, in honour, or flattery, of Augustus, after he had fortified the city, he caused it to be called Cesarea.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Acts 23". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany