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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Acts 23

 

 

Verses 1-5

Acts 23:1-5. And Paul, earnestly beholding the council — At whose bar he was placed; manifesting a clear conscience by his very countenance; and likewise waiting to see whether any of them was minded to ask him any question; said, Men and brethren — Though I am brought before you as a malefactor, to be examined and judged by you, I have the comfort of being conscious to myself that I have lived in all good conscience before God — The Searcher of hearts; until this day — Whatever men may think or say of me. He speaks chiefly of the time since he became a Christian. For none questioned him concerning what he had been before. And yet, even in his unconverted state, although he was in error, yet he had acted from conscience before God. And the high-priest Ananias — Conscious of his inveterate enmity to Paul, and of the steps he had openly taken for his destruction, thinking himself insulted by such a solemn declaration of his innocence; commanded them that stood by him — At the bar; to smite him on the mouth — For what he represented as a most insolent assertion; which was accordingly done. Then said Paul — Being carried away by a sudden and prophetic impulse; God, τυπτειν σε μελλει, is about to smite thee, thou whited wall — Fair without; full of dirt and rubbish within. And he might well be so termed, not only as he committed this outrage while gravely sitting on the tribunal of justice, but also as, at the same time that he stood high in the esteem of the citizens, he cruelly defrauded the priests of their legal subsistence, so that some of them even perished for want. And God did remarkably smite him; for about five years after this, his house being reduced to ashes, in a tumult begun by his own son, he was besieged in the royal palace; where, having hid himself in an old aqueduct, he was dragged out and miserably slain. And they that stood by — Being greatly offended; said, Revilest thou God’s high-priest — Dost thou, who pretendest to so much religion, presume impiously to revile the most sacred person in our nation, and consequently in the whole world? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren ουκ ηδει οτι εστιν αρχιερευς, I knew not, or, had not known; that he is the high-priest — That is, (as many understand him,) he did not advert to it, in the prophetic transport of his mind, that Ananias was the high-priest. But he does not say that his not adverting to it proceeded from the power of the Spirit coming upon him, as knowing that they were not able to bear it. But is it not more probable that his positive assertion here was the exact truth; and that, in fact, he did not know Ananias to be the high-priest? For, as Dr. Macknight justly observes, “Both the Roman governors and the Jewish princes had, for some time past, been in use to sell the high-priesthood to the best bidder; and sometimes to depose the person in office, that they might have it to sell anew. Wherefore, as Paul was but lately come from Greece, after five years’ absence, he may very well be supposed to have been ignorant of Ananias’s dignity, notwithstanding he might know him personally. It is alleged, indeed, that by his dress and seat in the council, Paul might have known Ananias to be the high-priest. But that does not seem probable; because, having looked steadfastly on the council at his first coming in, he would, by such an excuse, have exposed himself to ridicule, if Ananias could have been known to be the high-priest, either by his dress, or by his seat in the council.”


Verses 6-8

Acts 23:6-8. But when Paul perceived γνους δε ο παυλος, Paul knowing, in consequence of his being personally acquainted with many whom he saw sitting round; that one part of the council were Pharisees, and the other Sadducees, cried out, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee — I am such both by birth and education, as also by my own free choice, having voluntarily attached myself to that sect: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question — Meaning, that he was brought before them as a criminal for preaching the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as a proof of the resurrection of all the dead at the last day. Certainly this was a principal part (though not the whole) of the truth, since the chief thing which enraged the Sadducees against Christianity, was the demonstration it gave to the doctrine of a resurrection, which they so eagerly opposed. When he had so said, there arose a dissension — A disagreement and contention producing a separation between the Pharisees and Sadducees, several persons of each sect becoming warm in the debate. For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection — Of the dead. See on Matthew 22:23. Neither angel nor separate spirit — It seems strange that the Sadducees should deny that there were angels, considering that they acknowledged the authority of the five books of Moses, in which mention is frequently made of angels; but it seems they either understood the passages that speak of angels, in those books, allegorically, or, as Dr. Whitby observes, supposed that when they are said to appear, they were framed at that particular time for that purpose, and afterward ceased to have any being: so that, after the giving of the law, at least, no angel existed. And with regard to their denying the existence of spirits, the meaning probably is, not that they denied God to be a spirit, or that there was any spirit in man, but, as Josephus testifies, they denied, της ψυχης την διαμονην, the permanency of the soul after death, or, that any spirits existed in a state of separation from men’s bodies. But the Pharisees confess both — Both the resurrection and the existence of angels and separate spirits.


Verse 9

Acts 23:9. And there arose a great cry — A great clamour and quarrel, so that the edge of their zeal began to turn from Paul against one another. Nor could they go on to act against him, when they could not agree among themselves, or prosecute him for breaking the unity of the church, when there was among them so little of the unity of the Spirit. All the cry had been against Paul: but now there arose a great cry against one another; and so much did a fierce, furious spirit prevail among all orders of the Jews at this time, that every thing was done, even respecting religion, with clamour, tumult, and noise. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ part arose and strove — In the prisoner’s defence. Every sect contains both learned and unlearned: the former of which are usually the mouth of the party; saying, We find no evil in this man — And can see no reason for his being condemned or detained; but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken unto him — In the manner he represents, let us acquiesce, and wait the event, and not fight against God — Which must end in our ruin. They allude to what Paul had affirmed in his speech from the stairs, that Jesus, whom they knew to have been dead, was alive, and had appeared and spoken unto him in his way to Damascus, and again in a vision. This they interpret of an angel or spirit appearing to him; not allowing that the person whom they had crucified was really risen from the dead.


Verse 10-11

Acts 23:10-11. And when there arose a great dissension — Some of them urging that he ought to be set at liberty, while others eagerly insisted on his condemnation; the chief captain, fearing — On being informed of their disorderly proceedings; lest he should be pulled in pieces of them — Amidst the tumult; commanded a party of soldiers to go down — From the garrison; to take him by force from among them — Out of that apartment in the temple where he had ordered them to meet; and to bring him into the castle Antonia — “What must this heathen have thought of the worshippers of JEHOVAH, when he saw this assembly of chief priests, learned scribes, and rulers of Israel, forgetful of what became their rank, profession, and sacred character; and carried away by such unbridled rage, in their religious contests, as the Roman senators and magistrates, or principal persons, would have been ashamed of, even in their eager competition for authority and pre-eminence?” — Scott. And the night following the Lord stood by him — Appeared to him in a vision; And said, Be of good cheer, Paul — As he laboured under singular distresses and persecutions, so he was favoured with extraordinary assurances of the divine assistance. For as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem — And all the malice of the Jews has not prevented thee from faithfully discharging thy commission; so must thou bear witness also at Rome — Thus God now, in due time, confirms what Paul had before purposed in spirit, Acts 19:21. Another declaration to the same effect is made by an angel of God, Acts 27:23; particular promises being usually given when all things appear dark and desperate. For difficulties and dangers are nothing in the eyes of God; all hinderances only further his work; and a promise of what is afar off, implies all that necessarily lies between. Paul shall testify at Rome; therefore he shall come to Rome; therefore he shall escape the Jews, the sea, and the viper. He shall be brought safe through all intervening obstacles, dangers, and distresses, that he may bear testimony to the Romans. How would the defenders of Peter’s supremacy triumph, could they find but half as much ascribed to him!


Verse 12-13

Acts 23:12-13. And when it was day, certain of the Jews — Being exceedingly provoked that Paul had been thus rescued from the council; bound themselves under a curse — Such execrable vows were not uncommon among the Jews. And if they were prevented from accomplishing what they had vowed, it was an easy matter, as Dr. Lightfoot has shown from the Talmud, to obtain absolution from their rabbis; saying — Vowing; That they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul — Imprecating the heaviest curses upon themselves, their souls, bodies, and families, if they did not kill him, and so speedily, that they would not eat or drink till they had done it. What a complication of wickedness is here! To design to kill an innocent man, a good and useful man, a man that had done them no harm, but was willing and desirous to do them all the good he could, was going in the way of Cain most manifestly, and showed them to be of their father the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning. Yet, as if this had been a small matter, 1st, They bound themselves to it in a most awful manner. To incline to do evil is bad, and to intend and purpose to do it is worse; but to engage to do it, especially in such a manner as these Jews here did, is worst of all. It is entering into covenant with the devil; it is swearing allegiance to the prince of darkness; it is bidding defiance to a holy and just God. 2d, They bound one another to it, even more than forty of them, and thus did all they could, not only to secure the damnation of their own souls, but of the souls of all them whom they drew into the association. 3d, They showed a great contempt of the providence of God, and a presumption upon it, in that they bound themselves to do a thing, and that so dreadfully wicked, within so short a space of time as they could continue fasting; without any proviso or reserve for the disposal of an overruling providence; without saying, or thinking, “If the Lord will.” But, indeed, with what face could they insert a proviso for the permission of God’s providence, when they knew what they were about to do was directly contrary to the prohibitions of his word? 4th, They showed a great contempt of their own souls and bodies; of their souls, in imprecating a curse upon them if they did not proceed in this desperate enterprise; thus throwing themselves upon a most woful dilemma! for God certainly meets them with his curse if they proceed in their design, and they desire he would if they do not! and of their own bodies too, (for wilful sinners are the destroyers of both,) in tying themselves up from the necessary supports of life till they had accomplished a thing, which they could never lawfully, and perhaps not possibly, accomplish.


Verse 14-15

Acts 23:14-15. And they came to the chief priests and elders — Who were of the sect of the Sadducees, and Paul’s greatest enemies, telling them what they had done; and desiring them to ask the chief captain to bring Paul down to the council on the morrow, as if they wished to inquire something more perfectly concerning him, and we, (said they,) or ever he come near, are ready to kill him — And we will manage the attack in such a manner, that you shall not appear at all concerned in it; nor have any alarm about the matter, till you hear that he is actually dead. Josephus mentions a case not much unlike this, of some that bound themselves with an oath to kill Herod; in which they gloried as a laudable intention, because he had violated the ancient customs 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 Paul; who, indeed, were so far from blaming them for it, that not long after they renewed the same design themselves. See Acts 25:2-3.


Verses 16-22

Acts 23:16-22. When Paul’s sister’s son heard, &c. — How privately soever this business was contrived, the providence of God so ordered it, that, for the deliverance of his faithful servant from this inhuman and bloody conspiracy, it came to the ears of Paul’s nephew; who went and entered into the castle — Where, as has been before observed, Paul now lay confined; and told him the whole matter. Then Paul called one of the centurions — Who commanded part of the cohort under the tribune; and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain — Thus we see that Paul, though he had an express promise of it from Christ, did not neglect any proper means of safety. The chief captain took him by the hand — In a mild, condescending way; and went aside privately — Where none could overhear them speaking; and asked what he had to tell him — Lysias seems to have conducted this whole affair with great integrity, humanity, and prudence. So the chief captain — Having received the information which the young man had to give; let him depart, charging him to tell no man what things they were that he had communicated.


Verses 23-30

Acts 23:23-30. And he called two centurions — In whom he could particularly confide; saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers — Thus the chief captain prudently sends Paul away to Cesarea by night, under a strong guard, to the governor Felix. Provide them beasts — If a change should be necessary; to set Paul on — So we read of his riding once, but not by choice. And he wrote a letter, &c. — To Felix on the occasion; which may be considered as a specimen of the Roman method of writing letters, and is certainly a model of brevity, simplicity, and perspicuity. This man was taken of the Jews — Was seized by a multitude of them, who made a sudden insurrection on his account. Then came I with an army — With a party of soldiers, and rescued him from their furious assault; having understood that he was a Roman — True; but not before he rescued him. He here uses art.


Verses 31-35

Acts 23:31-35. Then the soldiers brought him by night to Antipatris — But not the same night they set out; for Antipatris was about thirty-eight of our miles north-west of Jerusalem. Herod the Great rebuilt it, and gave it this name, in honour of his father Antipater. Cesarea was near seventy miles from Jerusalem, about thirty from Antipatris. He commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment-hall — Or pretorium. This was a palace and a court, built by Herod the Great, when he rebuilt and beautified Cesarea. Probably some tower belonging to it might be used as a kind of state prison.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 23:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/acts-23.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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