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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Acts 23

Introduction

CHAP. XXIII.

As Paul pleadeth his cause, Ananias commandeth to smite him: dissention among his accusers: God encourageth him. The Jews' design to lay wait for Paul, is declared unto the chief captain. He sendeth him to Felix the governor.

Anno Domini 61.

Verse 1

Acts 23:1. Men and brethren, I have lived, &c.— St. Paul could not intend by this to intimate, that he thought himself free from guilt while persecuting the Christians, since he so expressly declares the contrary elsewhere. See 1 Timothy 1:13. 1 Corinthians 15:9. Galatians 1:13. He was only examined with respect to his conduct as a Christian; and therefore it would not have been pertinent here to refer to his conduct, while a persecuting Jew; though it was indeed true, that he did not then act against his conscience, how criminal soever he was in suffering it to continue misinformed. The plain sense of the passage is, "That his conscience, when examined as in the sight of God, with respect to what they alleged against him, did not charge him with any known and deliberate contradictions to its dictates:" and so it was, in effect, a solemn and very pertinent appeal to the Searcher of all hearts, that he had not devoted himself to the service of the gospel, in which he was now engaged, from any mean and dishonourable principle, but was fully convinced of the truth of it, and therefore was prepared to abide all extremities in its defence. Well might there be, in such a case, a folly of joy arising in an upright heart, from a consciousness through grace of its own integrity, amid such violent calumnies as were now advanced against him.

Verse 2

Acts 23:2. The high priest Ananias He was the son of Nebedoeus, and by his station head of the sanhedrim. He had before this been sent in chains to Rome, to give an account to Claudius Caesar of his behaviour in the quarrel which had happened between the Jews and Samaritans, during the government of Cumanus in Judea; but, being acquitted, he returned to Jerusalem, and still enjoyed the dignity of the high-priesthood,probablyattheintercessionof Agrippa the younger. Full of prejudice against St. Paul and the gospel doctrine, he condemned the apostle's speech, as too boasting and arrogant; and ordered some of the apparitors who stood by St. Paul to smite him on the mouth, for taking upon him to glory so much, though he had in reality used only a well grounded and just defence. But St. Paul could not wonder at such cruel and unrighteous treatment, when he considered that so had the false prophet Zedekiah dealt with the true prophet Micaiah; so had the high-priest Pashur smitten the prophetJeremiah; and, what is more, in like manner had the wicked Jews struck our Lord, when he had behaved with the greatest modesty and innocenc

Verse 3

Acts 23:3. God shall smite thee, thou whited wall, &c.— Alluding to the beautiful outside of some walls which are full of dirt and rubbish within. See on Mat 23:27 and Luke 11:44. The account which Josephus gives of the character and fate of Ananias, abundantly illustrates this prophetic speech of St. Paul. He might well be called a whited wall, not only as he committed this indecency in violation of the law, (Leviticus 19:15.) while gravely sitting in a sacred character on the tribunal of justice; but also, as at the same time that he carried it plausibly towards the citizens, and stood high in their favour, he most impiously and cruellydefrauded the inferior priests of the assistance which the divine law assigned them; so that some of them even perished for want:—and God did remarkably smite him; for after his own house had been reduced to ashes, in a tumult begun by his own son, he was besieged and taken in the royal palace; where, having in vain attempted to hide himself in an old aqueduct, he was dragged out and slain;—an event which happened five years after this, in the very beginning of the Jewish war.

Verse 5

Acts 23:5. I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: Animated on a sudden by the secret impulse of a prophetic Spirit, which bore him, as it were, for that moment beyond himself, St. Paul delivered the words of Act 23:3 which being urged against him, he chose not to enter upon a question so difficult to be cleared up, as the divine original of that impulse on his mind, by which he found himself inclined to utter those remarkable words; and only touched upon a circumstance attending it, saying, "Indeed, brethren, in the sudden transport of my mind, I was not aware that it was the high-priest." This is a natural rendering of the original words;—which cannot fairly be translated, I do not acknowledge him to be the high-priest: nor can it be imagined that St. Paul would enter on so curious and so dangerous a question as the justice of his accession to that office. Some have thought that St. Paul did not know him personally,but his habit and place in the sanhedrim must have distinguished him; or, if we were to suppose with Ribetus and others, that St. Paul, hearing the voice while looking another way, did not know whence it came, the solution is utterly insufficient; for his answer plainly shews, that he knew the person speaking to be a judge. The best exposition therefore of this matter, I am persuaded, is that above given, which willeasily reconcile all that passed with Christ's promise of being with his disciples, when appearing before councils. Matthew 10:19. Mark 13:11. For, according to that exposition, St. Paul by inspiration uttered a true prediction, and then alleged a true fact, to prevent any ill use of the circumstance in which it was spoken; only waving something which he might have justly urged in his own vindication, and from which he had an undoubted right to recede, if he thought fit. In the mean time, the candour both of the apostle and of the sacred historian, is well worthy our remark.

Verse 6

Acts 23:6. Of the hope and resurrection, &c.— The apostle here refers particularly to the resurrectionof Jesus, and, by him, of all mankind. All the Jews, long before, knew this to be the Christian doctrine; and therefore here was no fraud nor artful gloss to obtain favour with the Pharisees; but only an appeal to their prevailing doctrine, as a point in which the apostle agreed with them, and as what greatly favoured the Christian doctrine which he preached, and for which he suffered. See Acts 4:2; Acts 5:17.

Verse 8

Acts 23:8. For the Sadducees, &c.— "For, on one hand, the Sadducees, those freethinkers of the age, deny that there will be a resurrection of the dead, or that there is any such permanent being, as an angel, in the invisible world, or a separate spirit of man that survives the death of the body, and subsists in a state of disunion from it: but, on the contrary, the Pharisees, the strictest sect of the Jews, contend earnestly for the certainty of the resurrection of the body, and the existence of spiritual beings, both of the angelic and human rank, in the other world."

Verse 9

Acts 23:9. Let us not fight against God. When they mentioned it as a supposable case, that an angel might have spoken to him, they might probably allude to the many visions and revelations which St. Paul, in his late speech to the people, had professed to have received. Gamaliel was now dead, otherwise one would have supposed that he had made this speech, it being so very like that which he is recorded to have made, ch. Acts 5:39. Party spirit now carried the Pharisees to say the same things concerning Christianity, which policy and the national expectations led Gamaliel to say in the place above cited. Instead of cry in the first clause, several render it, clamour.

Verse 11

Acts 23:11. The Lord stood by him, &c.— This plainly shews that our Lord approved of the part which St. Paul had acted before the sanhedrim, though some had censured it without understanding or considering the circumstance of it. Witsius observes, that it must have been a greater consolation to so faithful a soldier of Christ as St. Paul was, having been thus approved and encouraged by his general, to be led on to further combats, than to be immediately dismissed: and such a temper he expresses, Philippians 1:20; Philippians 1:26.

Verse 14

Acts 23:14. We have bound ourselves under a great curse, We have bound ourselves by a solemn anathema, seems a proper rendering of the emphatic original. Such execrable vows as these, were not unusual with the Jews, who challenged to themselves a right of punishing those without any legal process, whom they considered as transgressors of the law; and in some cases, thought that they were justified in killing them. Josephus mentions a case not much unlike this, of some who bound themselves with an oath to kill Herod; in which they gloried, as a laudable intention, because he had violated the ancient custom of their nation. It is no wonder therefore that these Jews should make no scruple of acquainting the chief-priests and elders with their conspiracy against the life of St. Paul; who were so far from blaming them for it, that, not long after they renewed the same design themselves. Dr. Lightfoot has shewn from the Talmud, that if theywere prevented from accomplishing such vows as these, it was an easy matter to obtain an absolution from their rabbies.

Verse 15

Acts 23:15. Or ever he come near, That is, before he come near.

Verse 17

Acts 23:17. Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, Though St. Paul had an express promise from Christ for his security, Act 23:11 yet he did not neglect any proper means of safety. Comp. ch. Acts 27:24-25; Acts 27:31.

Verse 19

Acts 23:19. Then the chief captain took him by the hand, It is observable, that Lysias seems to have conducted this whole affair like a man of integrity, prudence, and generosity.

Verse 27

Acts 23:27. With an army, That is, With a band of soldiers. By the latter clause Lysias seems in general to intimate that he had, on the whole, been more solicitous to provide for St. Paul's security, out of regard to his being a Roman citizen.

Verse 31

Acts 23:31. Antipatris. Very different accounts are given of the situation of Antipatris, which must however have been north-west of Jerusalem, as it was in the way from thence to Caesarea. Its ancient name was Caphar Salama, 1Ma 7:31. But Herod the Great rebuilt it, and gave it the name of Antipatris, in honour of his father Antipater. It was something more than thirty-eight of our miles from Jerusalem. Probably the soldiers thus hastened, lest the Jews, in their rage against St. Paul, should pursue them. However, it is not necessary to conclude that St. Paul was carried thither in one night, or that the soldiers returned in one day: it is only said that they travelled by night, which they might do, and rest by the way, nor is it probable that they took St. Paul with them by night from Jerusalem, and reached Caesarea the next day, when it appears from Josephus, that from Jerusalem to Caesarea was near seventy miles.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Acts 23". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/acts-23.html. 1801-1803.