Q: #510. Why did Paul call Ananias a "whitewashed wall" in (Acts 23:3)?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Let me begin by posting the first 3 verses of Acts Chapter 23:
(Acts 23:1-3) And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. (2) And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. (3) Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited (whitewashed = Gr. "koniao") wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?
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 sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" Paul was on trial, and Ananias was the judge, but Ananias broke Jewish law by having someone slap 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.
Another possible reason is that tradition tells us that during his time as High Priest, Ananias well-known to be corrupt and dishonest, and perhaps Paul knew this. Josephus confirms this of Ananias in (Antiquities XX Chapter 9:2), saying that he was "a great hoarder up of money," and that he had servants who "took away the tythes (tithes) that belonged to the priests by violence."
However, it must also be noted that since (Acts 23:4-5) makes it appear that Paul did not originally know that Ananias the High Priest was judging him, Paul may simply have been addressing whoever he thought was judging his case when he said what he said in (Acts 23:3). In addition, if Paul didn't know that it was Ananias, the secondary reason in the above paragraph may not apply to the situation. (***Note: I believe that Paul did not recognize Ananias because he had a problem with his eyesight, which I speak of here.)
It is also very interesting to note that when Paul said to Ananias, "God shall smite thee," this 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, chapter 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 his 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.