Acts: Chapter 23
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 23:1-10).
(Verse 1-2)(NASB) “Now looking intently at the Council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life with an entirely good conscience before God up to this day.” (2) But the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike (“smite” – KJV) him on the mouth.”
“the Council” – This is the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin convened at (or near) the Temple in Jerusalem in a building most believe was called the “Chamber Of Hewn Stones.” They would make decisions on things of “national” importance. For instance, declarations of war, issues dealing with whole tribes, an issue with the High Priest, false prophets, etc… In addition, they dealt with matters pertaining to ritual and Jewish law such as blasphemy, adultery, tithing, idolatry, etc… It also appears that some or all death penalty cases may have been filtered through them (when they actually had the power to carry out the death penalty). They functioned much like our Supreme Court today.
The Sanhedrin was made up of 71 members, with the High Priest being in charge (the president or “nasi”), and a 2nd in command vice-president. The other 69 members were mainly Sadducees (chief priests and elders [family heads]) or Pharisees (scribes). These were the 2 main groups in Judaism, and are mentioned numerous times in the New Testament. It appears that the number 71 came from (Num 11:16-17), when the Lord told Moses to commission 70 “elders of Israel” to help him rule over the people of Israel (Also see: Ex 18:13-26, Deut 1:9-19).
For more on the Sanhedrin, you can go here: https://jesusalive.cc/sanhedrin-definition.
“Brothers” – In using this word, Paul is saying he is a Jew, just like them.
“good conscience” – (From the “Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary”) – “The word has an indirect reference to the “polity” or “commonwealth of Israel,” of which he would signify that he had been, and was to that hour, an honest and God-fearing member.” Paul mentions his “conscience” several other times in his Epistles (Acts 24:16)(Rom 9:1)(2 Cor 1:12)(2 Tim 1:3).
“the high priest Ananias” – In (Antiquities xx 5.2.), Josephus says Ananias was “the son of Nebedus.” In (Antiquities xx 9.2.), Josephus says he was “a great hoarder up of money,” and “he had also servants who were very wicked; who joined themselves to the boldest sort of the people, and went to the threshing floors, and took away the tythes that belonged to the priests by violence: and did not refrain from beating such as would not give these tythes to them.” The “Pulpit Commentary” says, “He was a violent, haughty, gluttonous, and rapacious man, and yet looked up to by the Jews.” It is unclear how long he was High Priest, but dates range from 47 – 59 A.D.
“strike him” – Infuriated by Paul’s words, the High Priest orders someone standing near Paul to “strike him on the mouth.” The Greek word used for “strike” here is “tupto“. This verb almost always mean more than just a single blow, but instead, a series of blows. This word is used for the beating of Jesus, when the soldiers “twisted a crown of thorns, and put it on His head,” and then “took a reed and struck (“tupto“) Him on the head” (Mt 27:29-30)(Mk 15:17-19). And again, in (Lk 22:63-65), when the Jews “blindfolded Jesus, and struck (“tupto“) Him on the face.” (Other uses: Lk 12:45, Lk 18:13, Lk 23:48, Mt 24:49, Acts 18:17, Acts 21:32, 1 Cor 8:12)
(Verse 3)(NKJV) “Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?”
“God will strike you” – It is very interesting to note that what Paul said to Ananias was prophetic. It is uncertain if Paul knew that he was prophesying here (it seems unlikely), however, what he said came true. We can see in (Josephus, Jewish Wars ii 17. 9.), that in 66 A.D., during the Jewish Wars (which was a Jewish revolt against Roman rule), Ananias and his brother Hezekiah attempted to conceal themselves in an aqueduct, but were found, pulled out, and slain by robbers (or Sicarii) under the leadership of Manahem. This was about 7 years after Paul made this prophetic statement. Ananias, even though he had been a Jewish High Priest (he had earlier been deposed by Agrippa II), was slain by his own countrymen because of his corruption and close alliance with the Romans.
“whitewashed wall” – This is an interesting saying, isn’t it? Generally, a “whitewashed wall” was a wall that was originally dirty, imperfect, and had flaws, but after it was “whitewashed” (made white by covering it with a mixture of water and lime or gypsum), it looked new and perfect on the outside. However, the “whitewash” only hid the imperfections of the wall.
Therefore, when Paul called Ananias a “whitewashed wall,” he was saying that Ananias looked good on the outside, but inside was full of imperfection and corruption. A variation of this term was previously used by Jesus when he called the scribes and Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” in (Mt 23:27). In conjunction with this, Jesus said they were “full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Mt 27:28). Paul may have had the Lord’s words in mind, and was also calling Ananias a “hypocrite.”
Why was Ananias a “whitewashed wall?” The primary reason is clear from the verse, when Paul says, “for you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” Paul was on trial, and Ananias was the judge, but Ananias broke Jewish law by having someone “strike” Paul before he had made his defense. Ananias was “beating someone before they were found guilty” (Deut 25:1-2)(Jn 7:51)(Lev 19:15). Therefore, by this action, Ananias was a corrupt judge.
(Verses 4-5)(NKJV) “And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” (5) Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.””
“revile God’s High Priest” – The Greek word used for “reviled” here is “loidorea.” It is used 3 other times in the New Testament: (1) The Pharisees “reviled” the blind man that Jesus healed (Jn 9:28), (2) Paul said the apostles were “reviled” (1 Cor 4:12), (3) Peter spoke of Jesus being “reviled” (1 Pet 2:23).
“I did not know…. he was the High Priest” – How could Paul not know this?
“it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people”” – This is found in (Ex 22:28).
(Verses 6-8) “But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. (7) And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. (8) For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
(From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Ananias’ haughty attitude and illegal act convinced Paul he would not receive a fair hearing before the Sanhedrin. Accordingly, he decided on a bold step. As a Pharisee, and possibly a former member of the Sanhedrin, Paul was well aware of the tensions between the Sanhedrin’s two factions. He appealed to the Pharisees for support, reminding them that he himself was a Pharisee, and appealing to the major theological difference (the resurrection) between them and the Sadducees. Paul thus created a split between the Sanhedrin’s factions.”
The Greek word used for “division” in (verse 7) is “schizo,” from which we get our English word “schism,” meaning “formal division in or separation from a church or religious body” – (Webster’s Dictionary).
It appears (there is some debate on these) that the Sadducees denied 6 key things: (1.) A bodily resurrection (Mt 22:23)(Acts 4:1-2) (2.) An “afterlife” (3.) That man had a “soul / spirit” (4.) The existence of angels, or demons (5.) That books of the Old Testament apart from the Torah were given by God (6.) A coming Messiah. On the other hand, the Pharisees did not deny any of these things.
***Note: The Bible shows a few Pharisees becoming Christians (i.e. Paul, Nicodemus, a group in Acts 15:5), but there is no record of any Sadducees becoming Christians. Trivia note: The book of John never mentions the Sadducees.
(Verses 9-10)(NKJV) “Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” (10) Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.”
“the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested” – Though the Pharisees hatred of Christians rivaled that of the Sadducees, it wasn’t enough to keep them from defending a Christian “Pharisee” on the matter of believing in the “resurrection.”
“if a spirit or angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God” – Likely alluding to (Acts 22:17-21), when they heard about the “vision” Paul received from Jesus. Even though Paul clearly said, “the Lord,” gave him the vision, the Pharisees are saying here it was “a spirit or angel” (they would not admit it was the resurrected Jesus as God). However, the Pharisees do admit two things here: (1.) that God may have been behind the “vision,” (2.) if it was God, then denying it would be “fighting against God.” ***Note: Gamaliel, the great Pharisee teacher, and member of the Sanhedrin said similar words some 25 years earlier (see: Acts 5:38-39).
The “commander” (see: Acts 21:31). The “barracks” (see: Acts 21:34). Doesn’t this “fight” over who was “right” between the Sadducees and Pharisees make you wonder what kind of testimony it presented to the commander, and the soldiers about their “religion?” Similarly, what kind of testimony do Christians present to unbelievers when they publicly argue and divide over secondary doctrinal issues?
Next, let’s read (Acts 23:11-22).
(Verses 11-13) “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. (12) And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. (13) And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.”
Remember back in (Acts 21:3), and (Acts 21:12-14) when we discussed whether or not Jesus wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem, and if Paul should have heeded the warnings not to go? Well, notice in (Verse 11) that Jesus never condemns Paul for going to Jerusalem, and it may indeed have been His will.
While many believe this was the 5th of 6 “visions” that Paul received from the Lord, I do not count it as such, since the wording “stood by him” makes it sound like Jesus actually appeared to Paul. (***Note: For more on times people in the Bible had a “dream or vision,” you can go here: https://jesusalive.cc/dreams-visions-in-bible.)
Paul first expressed his desire to go to Rome, and share the Gospel in (Acts 19:21). Shortly after that, while in Corinth for 3 months (Acts 20:3), Paul (“likely”) wrote his letter to the Romans. In that letter, Paul again expressed his desire to go to Rome (Rom 1:9-11). Later, while appearing before Governor Festus in (Acts 25:11-12), Paul finally found his way to get to Rome by “appealing to Caesar” to judge his case. (***Note: In [Rom 15:25-26], Paul mentions that at the time he was writing Romans, he was about to proceed to Jerusalem with offerings “for the poor saints at Jerusalem,” which were made by the churches of Macedonia and Achaia. This is where we are now.)
Jesus tells Paul here that his desire would happen. Paul certainly kept this “promise” in mind, along with another promise given in (Acts 27:23-24), when it appeared several times that he might die before reaching Rome (see: Acts Ch. 27-28). Paul reaches Rome in (Acts 28:16).
“bound themselves under a curse” – The Greek word used here for “bound” is “anathematizo.” It is taken from the Greek word “anathema,” meaning “accursed of God, or eternally condemned.” In other words, “If we don’t carry out this vow, may God condemn us forever.” Other uses of “anathema” can be found in (Rom 9:3)(1 Cor 12:3)(1 Cor 16:22)(Gal 1:8-9). Similar vows in the OT can be found in: (1 Sam 14:24,44)(2 Sam 3:35)(1 Kin 2:23)(2 Kin 6:31).
“they would neither eat nor drink” – The “Barnes Commentary” says, “That is, that they would do it as soon as possible. This was a common form of an oath, or curse, among the Jews. Sometimes they only vowed abstinence from particular things, as from meat, or wine. But in this case, to make the oath more certain and binding, they vowed abstinence from all kinds of food and drink until they had killed him.”
(Verses 14-15) “And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.” (15 – NASB) “Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to investigate his case more thoroughly; and as for us, we are ready to kill him before he comes near the place.”
Remember what we said above in (verses 1-2), “The Sanhedrin was made up of 71 members, with the High Priest being in charge (the president or “nasi”), and a 2nd in command vice-president. The other 69 members were mainly Sadducees (chief priests and elders [family heads]) or Pharisees (scribes).”
Now, read between the lines in these two verses. Notice in (verse 14) who these would be Jewish assassins go to: “the chief priests and elders.” Then, notice what (verse 15) says, “therefore you AND the Council notify the commander.” In other words, the “assassins” only went to “part” of the Sanhedrin (the “Council”) with their plot, the Sadducees, but not the Pharisees (the “scribes”). (Keeping in mind that the Pharisees had just defended Paul.)
(***Note: Obviously, this plot is doomed to failure, since Jesus has just promised Paul that he is going to make it to Rome.)
By telling the commander that they wanted Paul to come back so they could “investigate his case more thoroughly,” the “chief priests and elders” would not look guilty when the assassins killed Paul, since it would appear that they wanted to give him a fair trial.
(Verses 16-18) “And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle (barracks), and told Paul. (17) Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain (commander): for he hath a certain thing to tell him. (18) So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain (commander), and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed (asked) me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.”
“Paul’s sister’s son” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “The only clear reference in Scripture to Paul’s family (for other possible references see Rom. 16:7,11,21). Why he was in Jerusalem away from his family home in Tarsus is not known. Nor is it evident why he would want to warn his uncle, since Paul’s family possibly disinherited him when he became a Christian (Phil. 3:8).”
Since Paul was staying at the house of Mnason while in Jerusalem (Acts 21:15-16), it seems unlikely that his sister (or nephew) lived in Jerusalem. Perhaps they were in Jerusalem to keep the feast. However, it is also possible that Paul’s nephew had moved from Tarsus to Jerusalem to attend school, just as Paul had earlier (see: Acts 22:3).
“Paul the prisoner” – (From “Ellicott’s Commentary”) – “We may well believe that at the time he little thought how long that name would be used of him, first by others and then by himself, until it became as a title of honour in which he seemed to glory almost more than in that of Apostle. (Comp. Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1; Philemon 1:1; Philemon 1:9.).”
(Verses 19-22) “Then the chief captain (commander) took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me? (20) And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul tomorrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly. (21) But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee. (22) So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me.”
“took him by the hand” – This seems to indicate that Paul’s nephew was pretty young. The commander probably took him “aside” to make him feel more comfortable, and so that he would feel free to speak.
“But do not thou yield to them” – Paul’s nephew pleads with the “commander” not to “give into them!” There is also some “boldness” here by the young man.
“See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me” – The “commander” likely tells him this for two reasons: (1.) He was planning to take Paul out of the city that night, before the plan to kill him could be set into motion, (2.) He knows that if the assassins found out the young man had revealed their plot to someone, his life could be in danger.
Of course, the “commander” now knows that the Sanhedrin (and Ananias, the High Priest) is corrupt, and Paul would never receive a fair trial. In addition, he must certainly suspect Paul’s innocence.
Finally, let’s read (Acts 23:23-35).
(Verses 23-24)(NKJV) “And he called for two centurions, saying, “Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; (24) and provide mounts (KJV – “beasts”) to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor.””
Knowing that Paul would not get a fair trial, that he could not keep him locked up in protective custody indefinitely, and to foil the plot to murder Paul, Lysias decides to send Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea (about 75 miles away) by night (“the third hour of the night” = 9 p.m.)
As we mentioned back in (Acts 21:31), the Greek word used for “commander” (“captain” – KJV) is “chiliarchos,” and a “chiliarchos” was a commander of 1000 soldiers (“chilios” = a thousand / “archos” = to rule). Therefore, the commander here is sending almost half of his men to protect Paul as he sends him to Governor Felix!
(From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – “The great size of the military escort was not intended to be a tribute to this faithful messenger of Christ. Rather, it was an expression of the determination of the commander to maintain his reputation with his Roman superiors; if the Jews succeeded in killing Paul, a Roman citizen, then the officer in charge would be required to answer for his laxness.”
“mounts (beasts)” – (From the “Barnes Commentary”) – “The word translated “beasts” κτήνη ktēnē is of a general character, and may be applied either to horses, camels, or donkeys. The latter were most commonly employed in Judea.” One was for Paul, and others might have been used to transport baggage.
***Trivia note: This is the only time in the NT that shows Paul riding an animal (a horse, or whatever he was riding).
(Verses 25-26)(NASB) “And he wrote a letter with the following content: (26) “Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings.”
“Governor Felix” – (From the “Believer’s Bible Commentary”) – “The Roman governor, Felix, had enjoyed a meteoric rise from slavery to a position of political prominence in the Roman Empire. As to his personal life, he was grossly immoral. At the time of his appointment to be governor of the province of Judea, he was the husband of three royal ladies. While in office, he fell in love with Drusilla, who was married to Azizus, king of Emesa. According to Josephus, a marriage was arranged through Simon, a sorcerer from Cyprus. He was a cruel despot, as is evidenced by the fact that he arranged the assassination of a high priest named Jonathan, who criticized him for his misrule.”
(From the “Zondervan NIV Study Bible”) – “Antonius Felix. The emperor Claudius had appointed him governor of Judea c. A.D. 52, a time when Felix’s brother was the emperor’s favorite minister. The brothers had formerly been slaves, then Freedmen, then high officials in government. The historian Tacitus said of Felix, “He held the power of a tyrant with the disposition of a slave.” He married three queens in succession, one of whom was Drusilla (see 24:24).”
(Verses 27-30)(NKJV) “This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. (28) And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council. (29) I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains. (30) And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him. Farewell.”
***Note: (From the “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible”) – “Roman law required a subordinate officer to send a written statement of the case with a prisoner when he referred the case to his superior.”
Lysias summarizes “everything” that happened in (Acts 21:26 – 22:29) in one sentence here in (verse 27). Of course, he is not going to share with Governor Felix how badly he messed up in his handling of Paul:
“Binding him in two chains” (Acts 21:33)
Thinking he was an “Egyptian (assassin)” (Acts 21:38)
Going to have him “scourged” to find out the truth (Acts 22:24)
In addition, Lysias lies to Felix, telling him that when he learned Paul was a Roman, he “rescued” him from the Jews, when in reality, he did not learn Paul was a Roman until “after” he had “rescued” Paul from the Jews, and was about to have him scourged (Paul claimed his Roman citizenship at that time) (Acts 22:24-29).
As we mention previously, Lysias could not figure out why the Jews were SO upset with Paul. First, after “rescuing” Paul from the Jews, he thought they were upset because Paul was the “Egyptian assassin” (Acts 21:37-39). Finding out that wasn’t true, he allowed Paul to speak to the crowd after his arrest, in hopes of finding out why they were upset (Acts 21:40 – 22:21). When that didn’t work, he was going to “examine him by scourging” to find out (Acts 22:24-29). When he found out he couldn’t scourge him, he called together the Sanhedrin, and placed Paul before them to find out (Acts 22:30 – 23:10). That doesn’t appear to have worked either, based upon (verses 1-10 above). However, somehow, based upon (verse 29) here, Lysias has found out that Paul was “accused concerning questions of their (Jewish) law.”
In finding out that the Jews were upset over “questions of (Jewish) law,” Lysias realized that Paul had not broken any Roman laws, and therefore, was not “deserving of death or chains.”
However, when Lysias finds out about the plot to murder Paul, he decides to send Paul to his superior, Governor Felix, and let him decide Paul’s fate. (Probably in part because he was afraid of judging a Roman citizen himself.)
*** Interesting Comment! *** (From the “Life Application Bible”) “How did Luke know what was written in the letter from Claudius Lysias? In his concern for historical accuracy, Luke used many documents to make sure his writings were correct (see Luke 1:1-4). This letter was probably read aloud in court when Paul came before Felix to answer the Jews’ accusations. Also, a copy may have been given to Paul as a courtesy, because he was a Roman citizen.”
(Verses 31-35)(NASB) “So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. (32) But on the next day they let the horsemen go on with him, and they returned to the barracks. (33) When these horsemen had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. (34) Now when he had read it, he also asked from what province Paul was, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, (35) he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive as well,” giving orders for Paul to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.”
“Antipatris” – Antipatris was given its name by Herod (who built it), in honor of his father Antipater. It was a town (and military outpost), about midway between Jerusalem and Caesarea (about 40 miles from Jerusalem), and was often a stopping place for those traveling between the two cities. Today it is known as “Tel Afek.”
“Caesarea” – (See: Acts 9:30 for more on Caesarea)
“let the horsemen go with him” – Being well out of Jerusalem, and therefore away from the threat posed by the Jews who wanted to kill Paul, the “soldiers” (those on foot) returned to Jerusalem, leaving the horsemen to take Paul the rest of the way to Caesarea.
“when he learned he was from Cilicia” – (From the “MacArthur Study Bible”) – “Felix needed to determine whether he had jurisdiction to hear Paul’s case. Judea and Cilicia were at the time both under the legate of Syria, so Felix had the authority to hear his case.”
“I will give you a hearing” – The Greek word used for this phrase is “diakouomai,” meaning: “properly, to hear one through, hear to the end, hear with care, hear fully” (“Thayer’s Greek Lexicon”). This word is used nowhere else in the New Testament.
“Herod’s Praetorium” – Built by Herod, this was the governor’s “main” residence. However, the governor also had residences in places like Jerusalem (Jn 18:28), and Rome (Phil 1:13).
(From “Strong’s Concordance”) – “Praitorion is translated (1) “common hall in Mt 27:27, “palace”, (2) “Praetorium” in Mk 15:16; (3) “hall of judgment” or “judgment hall” in Jn 18:28, 33; 19:9; Acts 23:35; (4) “palace”, Phil 1:13.