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Bible Commentaries
Acts 23

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Acts 23:0


Paul Before the CouncilThe Sanhedrin DividedPaul Before the SanhedrinPaul Before the CouncilHis Appearance Before the Sanhedrin
Acts 22:30-5Acts 22:30-10(Acts 22:30-10)Acts 22:30-5(Acts 22:30-11)(Acts 22:30-11)
Acts 23:1-3Acts 23:1-5
Acts 23:4
Acts 23:5
Acts 23:6-10Acts 23:6-10Acts 23:6Acts 23:6-10
Acts 23:7-9
The Plot Against PaulPaul is Sent to CaesareaActs 23:10
Acts 23:11Acts 23:11-22Acts 23:11Acts 23:11Acts 23:11
The Plot Against Paul's LifeThe Plot Against Paul's LifeThe Conspiracy of the Jews Against Paul
Acts 23:12-22Acts 23:12-15Acts 23:12-15Acts 23:12-15
Acts 23:16-22Acts 23:16-18Acts 23:16-22
Acts 23:19
Acts 23:20-21
Acts 23:22
Paul Sent to Felix the GovernorSent to FelixPaul is Sent to Governor FelixPaul Transferred to Caesarea
Acts 23:23-30Acts 23:23-35Acts 23:23-25Acts 23:23-25Acts 23:23-25
Acts 23:26-30Acts 23:26-30Acts 23:26-30
Acts 23:31-35Acts 23:31-35Acts 23:31-35Acts 23:31-35

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Compare Paul's defenses and list the common elements.

2. Did Paul see himself as a faithful Jew?

3. Do we know anything about Paul's extended family from Acts?

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 23:1-5 1Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, "Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day." 2The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. 3Then Paul said to him, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?" 4But the bystanders said, "Do you revile God's high priest?" 5And Paul said, "I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'"

Acts 23:1

NASB, NRSV"looking intently at" NKJV"looking earnestly at" TEV"looked straight at" NJB"looked steadily at"

See full note at Acts 1:10. Luke uses this term often. Here he uses it of Paul. Paul uses it only in 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:13.

"the Council" See Special Topic: Sanhedrin at Acts 4:5.

"Brethren" Paul calls Jews "brothers" several times (Acts 13:26, Acts 13:38; Acts 22:1, Acts 22:5; Acts 23:1, Acts 23:5, Acts 23:6). The Jews call Paul brother in Acts 13:15. Ananias called him brother in Acts 9:17, as does the church in Jerusalem in Acts 21:20.

However, Jewish believers are also called by this title (e.g., Acts 9:30; Acts 10:23; Acts 11:1, Acts 11:12; Acts 12:17; Acts 15:3, Acts 15:7, Acts 15:13, Acts 15:22). The word is linked with "disciple" in Acts 11:29; Acts 18:27. It is also used of Greek believers in Acts 16:2, Acts 16:40. Thus the term is ambiguous and must be linked to a specific text and group.

"I have lived my life. . .before God" This is a perfect middle (deponent) indicative of politeuô from which we get the English word political or policy. This term is used with the connotation of a citizen (cf. Philippians 1:27). Paul is asserting that he has faithfully discharged the responsibilities of being a member of Judaism before God.

NASB"a perfectly good conscience" NKJV"in all good conscience" NRSV"a clear conscience" TEV"my conscience is perfectly clear" NJB"a perfectly clear conscience"

Paul uses the term "conscience" often in the Corinthian letters (cf. Acts 4:4; Acts 8:7, Acts 8:10, Acts 8:12; Acts 10:25, Acts 10:27, Acts 10:28, Acts 10:29; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:11). It refers to that moral inner sense of what is appropriate or inappropriate (cf. Acts 23:1). The conscience can be affected by our past lives, our poor choices, or by the Spirit of God. It is not a flawless guide, but it does determine the boundaries of individual faith. Therefore, to violate our conscience, even if it is in error or weak, is a major faith problem.

The believer's conscience needs to be more and more formed by the Word of God and the Spirit of God (cf. 1 Timothy 3:9). God will judge believers (i.e., weak or strong, cf. Romans 14:1-13) by the light they have, but all of us need to be open to the Bible and the Spirit for more light and to be growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"before God up to this day" Paul makes this same assertion in 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:3. He does admit that he did covet (cf. Romans 7:23, esp. Acts 23:7). His theological argument in Romans 1-8 is based on every person's violation of law and conscience (cf. Acts 3:9-23; Acts 4:15; Acts 5:20).

Acts 23:2 "The high priest Ananias" In Hebrew his name would be Hananiah. This is not the same as the Ananias of Luke 3:2, John 18:13, or Acts 4:6, but a later one (Ananias, son of Nebedaeus or Nedebacus) who was appointed by Herod Chalcis, who reigned from A.D. 48-59 (Josephus, Antiq. 20.9.2).

The writings of Josephus tell us much about this High Priest.

1. when he became High Priest, Antiq. 20.5.2; Wars, 2.12.6.

2. when he and his son (Ananus) were sent in bonds to Rome, Antiq. 20.6.2

3. when he was killed by insurrectionists along with his brother, Wars 2.17.9

Josephus is often our only ancient contemporary source for Jewish events and persons in Palestine.

"to strike him on the mouth" This was a sign of blasphemy (cf. John 18:22).

Acts 23:3 "God is going to strike you" This is recorded in great detail in Josephus, Wars 2.17.9.

"you whitewashed wall" It is uncertain exactly what Paul was saying.

1. the Jews used this metaphor for hypocrisy (cf. Matthew 23:27)

2. it could be an allusion to Ezekiel 13:10-15

"in violation to the Law" This may be an allusion to Leviticus 19:15. Also see John 7:51.

Acts 23:5 "I was not aware brethren, that he was high priest" The theories for Paul's not knowing are his

1. poor eyesight

2. not being familiar with him because Paul had been gone from Jerusalem for several years

3. not recognizing the High Priest because he was not wearing his official robes

4. he did not know who spoke

5. the inappropriateness of his actions (i.e., sarcasm)

"for it is written" Paul shows he knows and respects the Law by quoting Exodus 22:28.

Verses 6-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 23:6-10 6But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" 7As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, "We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?" 10And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.

Acts 23:6 "perceiving" Paul may have realized that he could not get a fair hearing from this Sadducean high priest.

"Sadducees" See Special Topic at Acts 4:1.

"Pharisees" Paul had been a Pharisee (cf. Acts 26:5; Philippians 3:5-6) from a family of Pharisees. See Special Topic at Acts 5:34.

"I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead" Paul threw out a theological issue that the Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed about. The Sadducees denied the afterlife, while the Pharisees affirmed it (cf. Job 14:14; Job 19:23-27; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). This set the two factions of the council against each other (cf. Acts 23:7-10).

Acts 23:7 "the assembly was divided" This term's basic meaning is "to tear" (cf. Luke 5:36; Luke 23:45). It came to be used metaphorically of division within groups (cf. Acts 14:4; Acts 23:7). The division between these two Jewish sects was always just under the surface. Paul fanned the flames.

Acts 23:8 "nor an angel, nor a spirit" Verse Acts 23:8 is a comment by Luke on his source. Does this phrase imply there are two categories of spiritual beings or one? The origin of both is biblically ambiguous, but Hebrews 1:5, Hebrews 1:13, and 14 imply they are the same.

What the Sadducees denied was the dualism of good and evil spiritual beings (Zoroastrian dualism). The Pharisees had elaborated the OT concept into rigid Persian dualism and even developed a hierarchy of angelic and demonic (seven leaders of each). The best source I have found for first century Jewish angelology is Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Appendix XIII.

Acts 23:9

NASB"there arose a great uproar" NKJV"there arose a loud outcry" NRSV"then a great clamor arose" NJB"the shouting grew louder"

This same phrase is found in the Septuagint of Exodus 12:30 (also note Exodus 3:7; Exodus 11:6; Esther 4:3; Isaiah 58:4; Isaiah 65:19). The word "cry" (kraugç) is also in Matthew 25:6; Luke 1:42; Ephesians 4:31; Hebrews 5:7; Revelation 21:4. Only context can determine the kind of loud "cry" (i.e., positive or negative).

Another emotional word "to argue heatedly" (diamachomai) is also used in the LXX in Daniel 10:20. Paul's comment caused a loud, emotional confrontation, which is exactly what he wanted!

"the scribes" These were the legal experts in both the oral (Talmud) and written law (OT). Most of them were Pharisees.


"this man" The use of this noun phrase in this context shows it is not automatically a negative phrase.

"suppose" This is a partial or incomplete first class conditional sentence. These scribes were asserting that Paul had seen something from the spiritual realm, but exactly what they were not sure. Their immediate and forceful defense of Paul shows how biased they were for their own group. Apparently they disliked Sadducees more than a supposedly renegade Pharisee.

Because this is an incomplete grammatical structure, the Textus Receptus, following the uncial Greek manuscripts H, L, and P, adds, "Let us not fight against God," which is taken from Acts 5:39.

Acts 23:10 "ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force" Twice now the Roman government had saved Paul's life in Jerusalem. No wonder Paul saw the government as a minister of God (cf. Romans 13:0). This may relate to "the one who restrains" in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7.

Verse 11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 23:11 11But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, "Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also."

Acts 23:11 "the Lord stood at his side" Here is another personal vision to encourage Paul (cf. Acts 18:9-10; Acts 22:17-19; Acts 27:23-24). Paul was not a man without discouragement and doubt.

"Take courage" This is a present active imperative. This is the only use of this term in Luke's writings. Paul must have shared this with Luke. Jesus uses the term several times (cf. Matthew 9:2, Matthew 9:22; Matthew 14:27; John 16:33).

"you must witness at Rome also" It was God's will for Paul to be imprisoned so that he might appear before Caesar. The gospel will be preached in Rome (cf. Acts 19:21; Acts 22:21)!

For "must" see full note at Acts 1:16.

Verses 12-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 23:12-15 12When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13There were more than forty who formed this plot. 14They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, "We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. 15"Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place."

Acts 23:12-15 This paragraph informs us of the assassination pact of some of the Jews. This is another premeditated murder (cf. Acts 23:21) like the one the Jews planned for Jesus.

Acts 23:13 "more than forty" Forty is a Jewish idiom for a long, indefinite period of time, but here it is used of persons, so it is probably literal. See Special Topic: Numbers in Scripture at Acts 1:3.

Acts 23:14 "the chief priests and the elders" This was an abbreviated way of referring to the Sanhedrin. See Special Topic at Acts 4:5.

NASB"we have bound ourselves under a solemn oath" NKJV"we have bound ourselves under a great oath" NRSV"we have strictly bound ourselves by an oath" TEV"we have taken a solemn vow" NJB"we have made a solemn vow"

These English translations are an attempt to translate a cognate idiomatic phrase, "with a curse we curse ourselves." These oath-takers did not kill Paul. I wonder if they starved to death? Apparently the oral tradition allowed a way out of these blood oaths. See Special Topic following.


Verses 16-25

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 23:16-25 16But the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, "Lead this young man to the commander, for he has something to report to him." 18So he took him and led him to the commander and said, "Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to lead this young man to you since he has something to tell you." 19The commander took him by the hand and stepping aside, began to inquire of him privately, "What is it that you have to report to me?" 20And he said, "The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down tomorrow to the Council, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more thoroughly about him. 21"So do not listen to them, for more than forty of them are lying in wait for him who have bound themselves under a curse not to eat or drink until they slay him; and now they are ready and waiting for the promise from you." 22So the commander let the young man go, instructing him, "Tell no one that you have notified me of these things." 23And he called to him two of the centurions and said, "Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen." 24They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor. 25And he wrote a letter having this form:

Acts 23:16 "the son of Paul's sister" We have many questions about Paul's family, but it is shrouded in silence. How he knew of the plan is also unknown. He was possibly a Pharisee also.

Acts 23:21 This attack would have also involved the killing of the Roman guards!

Acts 23:23 The contingent of troops to accompany Paul was apparently either (1) 200 infantry, 70 cavalry, and 200 lancers or (2) 200 lancers and 70 cavalry. The western family of Greek manuscripts has a long descriptive addition (cf. NKJV).

"the third hour" This is obviously Roman time. They started counting the night at 6 p.m. This would be 9 p.m.

"Caesarea" This was the headquarters for the Roman occupational forces in Palestine.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV"spearmen" NJB"auxiliaries" REB"light-armed troops" NASB (footnote)"additional mounts" or "pack animals" NEB"bowman"

The meaning of the term dexiolabos is uncertain. It is literally "one posted or armed on the right side" (dexios). It refers to

1. some type of light armed soldier (bow or spear)

2. one who is bound to prisoners on the right side

3. one who holds a second horse

4. one who is on the flank

So many options show that moderns do not exactly know the meaning.

Acts 23:24 "Felix" The Roman historian Tacitus (Histories Acts 5:9, Annals 12:54) called Antonius Felix cruel and lustful. He gained his position through his brother, Pallas (both of whom were freed slaves), who was a close friend to Emperor Claudius. He served as the eleventh procurator of Palestine from A.D. 52-59.

Acts 23:25 "form" See Special Topic: Form (tupos) at Acts 7:43.

Verses 26-30

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 23:26-30 26"Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. 27When this man was arrested by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, I came up to them with the troops and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28"And wanting to ascertain the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their Council; 29and I found him to be accused over questions about their Law, but under no accusation deserving death or imprisonment. 30When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, also instructing his accusers to bring charges against him before you."

Acts 23:26-30 This is the required letter of explanation of Paul's case by the officer in charge (cf. Acts 25:12ff). It states the flow of the events, but does so in such a way as to make Lysias look good.

Acts 23:26 This is the verse in which we are told the Chiliarch's name.

Acts 23:29 This verse fits Luke's pattern of showing that Christianity and its leaders, when accused before governmental officials, were always acquitted and deemed innocent. Rome had nothing to fear from "the Way"!

Verses 31-35

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Acts 23:31-35 31So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. 33When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34When he had read it, he asked from what province he was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, 35he said, "I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also," giving orders for him to be kept in Herod's Praetorium.

Acts 23:31 "brought him by night to Antipatris" This city was built by Herod the Great and named after his father, Antipater II. This was a very long march of possibly 30-40 miles. The exact site of the city is uncertain. The reason the foot soldiers returned (cf. Acts 23:32) at this point is because

1. this was primarily a Gentile area

2. the topography was open and flat, so there was little danger of surprise attack

Acts 23:33 "the governor" This is literally "procurator." Luke is very precise in his titles for local and Roman officials.

Acts 23:34 "asked from what province he was" This was to ascertain jurisdiction. Since Paul was also from an Imperial Province Felix could try the case. There were three divisions of jurisdiction in the Roman Empire:

1. Imperial (Caesar)

2. Senatorial

3. local (like the Herods)

Acts 23:35 "after your accusers arrive" This should have been the Jews from Asia who accused Paul in the Temple of bringing a Gentile into the restricted Jewish area. The fact that they did not appear should have resulted in a dismissal of the charges. But, as often happens, local politics affects justice!

"kept in Herod's Praetorium" The Romans were kind to Paul while he was in their custody (cf. Acts 24:23). Paul stayed in a palace built by Herod the Great, which had previously been used for his personal residence, but now had become Roman Headquarters.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Acts 23". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/acts-23.html. 2021.
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