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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 23

 

 

Verse 1

5. Paul before the SanhedrinSecond Defence, Acts 23:1-9.

1. Earnestly beholding—Scanning the assembly with an intent gaze, to analyze its elements and discover by what method he may again master the crisis, Paul probably recognises some old acquaintances. He notes, probably, those who are his bitterest enemies. The presiding chiliarch, now anxious about his mistake in binding him, is essentially his friend, and has near by a sufficient protective military force. Paul, therefore, feels himself on high ground, and determines to take a bold initiative.

Men… brethren—He omits fathers, as used in Acts 22:1, and calls them in effect brethren, or equals, and not superiors.

Lived—Greek, “I have conducted as a citizen,” or exercised my citizenship.


Verse 2

2. Commanded… to smite him—The high priest is left in his passion to inflict the usual Eastern penalty of criminal or impertinent speech upon this servant of Christ, an outrage which will draw forth a monitory prediction of his own violent end.

This Ananias was the son of Nebedaeus, and was appointed to the high priesthood by Herod, king of Chalcis. (See our Hist. Revelation at Acts 21:17, §§ 1, 2, and 3.) He was assassinated by the Sicarii, about five years afterward.


Verse 3

3. God shall smite thee—Shall is used as often for will, to express a simple future tense. Literally, God is about to smite thee. This is not an imprecation, but a warning to this man, which the apostle was empowered to pronounce to him, of the violent termination impending over the continuance of his violent career.

Whited wall—Like whited sepulchres, a phrase used by the Master, who here sustained Paul, of precisely such characters as Ananias. This epithet refers to inward coarseness and vileness, covered with an outside polish, which belonged both to a wall and to the highpriestly hypocrite.


Verse 4

4. God’s high priest—Not only the informality of this assemblage, (see note on Acts 23:1 and Acts 22:30,) but the previous excitements of its members, and the riot with which it broke up, indicate that Ananias occupied no seat of honour, and wore no costume to distinguish him from the crowd. His person was unknown to Paul, who had long been absent from Jerusalem. When, then, he ordered Paul to be smitten, he not only committed a violence for which he had there and then no authority, but there was no sign to indicate to Paul that the order was given by a ruler in due authority.


Verse 5

5. I wist not—Paul virtually concedes that had he known his assailant he would not have uttered the remark. But he does not concede that the warning did not fit the man; nor is he able to say that the arrow is not divinely directed to hit its mark.

Some commentators upon Paul’s words have made him confess his wrong spirit by saying, “I did not in my haste consider that he was high priest;” others make him say, I do not recognise such a tyrant as a true high priest; others suppose that he was looking in another direction, and was not aware that it was Ananias who ordered the smiting. Alford absurdly supposes that St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a weakness of the eyes, so that he recognised not the high priest; and Lewin maintains that Ananias was in fact not a lawful high priest. Our interpretation, if correct, takes the words in their most natural sense, furnishes obvious reasons for Paul’s personal mistake, yet subjects him to no moral charge, and preserves the prophetic import of his utterance.

Written—(See Exodus 22:28.)

Paul Divides the Assembly, and is Rescued by the Chiliarch.

Acts 23:9 indicates that Paul’s yesterday’s speech on the stairs, with its strong avowal of his original Phariseeism, had made its impression on some of the Pharisees who heard it, and that they were seeking for some construction of Paul’s vision of Christ as would make it allowable that “a spirit or an angel hath spoken unto him.”


Verse 6

6. I am a Pharisee—It is sometimes said that this statement of Paul was false. Yet his additional words, the son of a Pharisee, gave fair warning that he applied the term Pharisee to himself in a modified sense. On that point of the variation between himself and the Pharisees he had yesterday fully and frankly explained himself. Not merely may we say that on the points of division between the Pharisees and Sadducees he was with the former; but Paul might say that he was the truest and most consistent Pharisee present; that a true Phariseeism, being orthodox Judaism, ought by its own premises to develop into Christianity.

Son of a Pharisee—The preferable reading is, the son of Pharisees; that is, the descendant of a Pharisaic lineage.

The hope—Probably this word is a term for the Messiah. (See note on Acts 26:6.)


Verse 7

7. Divided—Paul aimed not merely to divide and conquer, but to gain a part of the audience.


Verse 8

8. Both—This both includes the resurrection on one side, and angel or spirit on the other.


Verse 9

9. Great cry—That a part of the assembly should favour Paul excited almost as fierce a clamour against them as had arisen against Paul himself.

Arose—First there was an outcry; then the Pharisaic Scribes started up from their seats and boldly took sides with Paul.

Strove—Literally, fought; that is, they used physical force to rescue Paul from the onset of the Sadducees. It is probable that Ananias was on the Sadducean side.

Let us not fight against God—This clause is probably spurious. The sentence really terminates abruptly and unfinished at the word him. Conybeare and Howson ingeniously suggest that the rest of the sentence is lost in the clamour.


Verse 10

6. Paul Rescued and sent to Cesarea, Acts 23:10-35.

10. Great dissension—Paul is imminently likely to be divided between the divided assembly. But Lysias is fully satisfied that Paul’s only offence is a religious dissent from the Sanhedric doctrines, which, as a Greek-Roman, he considers but a fancy crime, and he thereupon evidently purposes that their designs to murder him shall not be of easy accomplishment. (Acts 23:29.) A second time does unconscious Gentilism rescue her great apostle from fallen Judaism.


Verse 11

11. Night following—Exhausted with the past two days’ excitements, alone in the desolate barracks, does the blessed Jesus find and console his faithful confessor. Has the lonely advocate for his Lord any misgivings that unholy passion has stained his record that day? This Be of good cheer assures his spirit on that point, and infuses within him the freshness of a new life.


Verse 12

Conspiracy, and its Disclosure, Acts 23:12-22.

12. Under a curse—By the Jewish anathema a thing was sacredly devoted to God, either for service or for retribution and destruction. The form of the resolution was, “According to my oath I will neither eat nor drink, whose eats or drinks is a double criminal.” But how could they escape starvation in case of failure? Chrysostom keenly says, “Then they were forever cursed; for they did not kill Paul.” But Lightfoot shows that the rabbies had the spiritual power to play pope and absolve them from their vow. Says the Talmud, “To a man that has vowed to abstain from food and drink, woe if he eats, and woe if he drinks; if he eats, he breaks his vow; if he eats not, he destroys his life. What then must he do? Let him go to the rabbies, and they will release him from his vow?” A similar conspiracy and oath were undertaken by ten Jews against Herod with similar failure.


Verse 14

14. Chief priests and elders—Those high dignitaries would not reject such assassination. Taking advantage of the extraordinary example of Phineas, son of Eleazer, the gravest Jewish writers, the Talmud, Josephus, and Philo, maintain the right of summary assassination of apostates from God. Thus the last of these writers, as quoted by Hackett, says, “All who have a zeal for virtue should have a right to punish with their own hands, without delay, those who are guilty of this crime; not carrying them before a court, council; or magistrate, but regarding themselves for the time as judges and executioners.” These appalling authorizations of assassination of course would lead to the dissolution of society. The Sicarii, encouraged by Felix and by such countenance as the Sanhedrists now gave, arose in great numbers, and their daggers did the work of destruction in detail on all supporters of moderate counsels, and led the nation to its final catastrophe. (See our Historical Review, Acts 21:17, § 4.) So awful is the warning against encouragement of lawless violence and secret assassination in any civilized community. Especially in a free government law should be at once just and supreme.


Verse 15

15. With the council—They proposed that the request to the chiliarch should be made by regular vote of the Sanhedrin, those who favoured Paul being probably deceived as to the real design.

Or ever—Before. They will assassinate him at a distance, by the way, in order to keep the Sanhedrin clear of any suspicion of cooperation in the murder.


Verse 16

16. Sister’s son—The only appearance of any blood relation of Paul’s in the New Testament history. Whether Paul had, like Barnabas, a married sister resident in Jerusalem, or whether this nephew, who appears thus in view solitary and alone, was a pupil sent to Jerusalem, as Paul once was, there is nothing to decide. The secret of the plot had too many keepers to be well kept. Some of Paul’s favourers in the Sanhedrin may have informed Paul’s relative, and thus he became a link in the chain of Paul’s safety and progress to Rome.


Verse 19

19. Took him by the hand… privately—An act of guidance from the present company to a private place.


Verse 22

22. Tell no man—Paul’s sudden disappearance from Jerusalem was thus left a mystery to the excited Sanhedrin, and a sad perplexity to the oath-bound assassins.


Verse 23

23. Two hundred soldiers—Probably the largest body guard the now rescued apostle ever had.

Third hour—At nine o’clock at night this little army, four hundred and seventy strong, horse, foot, and light-armed, prepared for every kind of ground, and every mode of attack, starting from Jerusalem, took the high ridge-road leading toward Sychem, and arrived as far as Gophna by midnight, as their first stopping place. Thence they took a Roman road, of which traces are still visible, slanting northwest-wardly, to Antipatris, where all but the horsemen, who were seventy strong, left to return to Jerusalem.


Verse 24

24. Beasts—The Greek word denotes any riding beast, as horses, mules, or camels. More than one would be needed for a single person for change. Each horseman both rode and led a horse.

Felix the governor—The procurator, to whom the chiliarch was subordinate, and he to the prefect of Syria. (For account of FELIX, see Hist. Revelation 21:17.)


Verse 25

25. This manner—This type or form. The regular letter form of this document, according to the fashion of that day, shows that Luke offers it as a literal copy. There is no difficulty in supposing that in the many interviews held by Festus with Paul the latter might have seen the original, and furnished a copy to Luke. The latter would value it as an authentic and characteristic document, and worthy to be inserted in his history.


Verse 26

26. Claudius Lysias—The name Lysias, which is here first given, intimates that he was a Greek; the name Claudius is Latin, assumed, perhaps, after he had bought his Roman citizenship “for a great price.” So that we have here a note from a Greek-Roman chiliarch to a Greek-Roman procurator.

Most excellent—An official title.

Greeting—The usual epistolary civility.


Verse 27

27. Should have been—Would have been.

An army—Rather, the troops, namely, in possession for the purpose.

Rescued him—This Lysias did thrice.

Having understood—This was true the second and third time, but not the first. The pretence among many commentators that Lysias is chargeable with an intentional falsehood to obtain fictitious credit is preposterous. He deserved all the credit he could claim, namely, that as soon as he had evidence that Paul was a Roman citizen he maintained his rights with all the power of the government. His conduct from first to last would stand honourably justified before the Roman court. The slight defect in the unimportant detail that in the first rescue he had not been informed of the citizenship was easily committed in so brief and summary a note, and is so natural that every one intuitively feels that both the note and the facts to which it refers are genuinely historical.


Verse 29

29. Nothing… worthy of… bonds—Felix was now certified beforehand that the prisoner was in bonds only for imaginary crimes. (Note Acts 23:10.)


Verse 31

31. Antipatris—”If any man,” says Josephus, “was a lover of his father (Antipater) Herod was, for as a paternal monument he founded a city in the loveliest plain of his kingdom, rich with rivers and trees, and named it Antipatris.”


Verse 32

32. The morrow—After their arrival at Antipatris, being forty miles from Jerusalem, and twenty-six miles yet to Cesarea. At this distance from Jerusalem, all danger of attack from the Jewish conspirators having ceased, the infantry return home, leaving Paul in charge of the cavalry escort. Luke’s narrative no more visits Jerusalem.


Verse 34

34. What province—The first question with a Roman governor, in order to be sure that he trespassed on no other man’s jurisdiction.


Verse 35

35. Herod’s judgment hall—Rather, the pretorium of Herod. This was a palace built by Herod, and afterward occupied by the Roman procurators. Such edifices were furnished, like the old mediaeval palaces and baronial castles, with towers for keeping prisoners of state. Paul was, therefore, not confined in an ordinary prison, but resided in the very palace of Felix. The procurator was probably influenced by both Lysias’ pronouncing him innocent, and by his knowledge that the Christians were now a growing religious body. Under this honourable and gentle durance the apostle remained for two years—in a prison and a palace. He resided in the residence of the slayer of the innocents at the birth of Christ.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 23:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-23.html. 1874-1909.

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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