Acts 23 Paul Before the Sanhedrin Council

This study begins with Paul standing before some of the same ones who gave him permissions many years prior, to bring any Jewish people belonging to 'the Way' back to Jerusalem. He had received his letters from the high priest. In this case he will be standing before a different high priest, but a number of the Council members will be the same. Let's see what happens.

This is Acts040 - Acts 23 Paul Before the Sanhedrin Council

(I am going to leave questions off this study also. Feel free to discuss any portion.)

Paul had been kept in protective custody by the Romans until it could be determined what the charges were against him. It is the day after the riot in the temple and in Jerusalem, and Paul is brought before the Council. But the Roman soldiers are also close by. They have no intention of letting Paul be abused. He was under protection of Roman law.

Acts23:l: "Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'"

.... Paul is known personally by some of the members of the Council. This contributes to his confidence in addressing them. He is probably searching their faces to see who is there. In his younger days, Paul was most likely a candidate for the Council. He also knew that not everyone on the Council harbored ill feelings towards the Nazarene movement.

The apostle gives a brief summary as way of testimony, but it doesn't go over very well with one man in particular. Let's call this man 'the great hypocrite.' (It will be shown that this is the case.)

Vs2: "The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth."

... Now we see where the venom lies. The leadership of Judaism at the time hated the Christ movement. This particular priest was known for his cruelty. He was put in office in 48 a.d., and removed from office by King Agrippa in 59 a.d. (About two years after this.) According to Josephus, Ananias was assassinated during the war with Rome in 70 a.d.

Vs3: "Then 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?'"

.... We may wonder what happened to Paul's self-control, but there may be more to the story than this alone. What the apostle said was deliberate. He called Ananias a hypocrite. Jesus used similar language with regard to certain of the scribes and Pharisees; "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Matt23:27)

This adds something to the picture. What Paul said may have been either a prophecy, or even a curse. In Judaism, to say, "God is going to strike you," was to speak a curse. It is possible that the Holy Spirit had spoken through him.

Vss4,5: "But the bystanders said, 'Do you revile God's high priest?' And 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."'"

.... To not know Ananias was high priest is easily explained by the fact that Paul had been absent from Jerusalem for a great many years, and the priestly office changed ever so often, either at the whim of the Romans, and others who were in charge. (Often to the highest bidder.)

Here is where we see Paul's use of tact. He knows that under the present circumstances he does not have a chance for a fair hearing, and especially after calling for a curse on the high priest. But I wonder if this was simply the Spirit of Jesus speaking through Him, and calling things as they were.

Remember Jesus said, "But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." (Matt10:19,20)

Vs6: "But 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!'"

.... What a moment of triumph! Paul cries out loud enough for everyone to hear him. The Council makeup is of both Sadducee and Pharisee. He calls himself a son of 'Pharisees.' This implies that both his father and mother were Pharisees, as well as his forebearers. Then Paul reaches into Pharisee beliefs that are also beliefs carried by Christians, which is the resurrection of the dead. Of course the Sadducees do not believe in an resurrection, nor in angels, nor in miracles. (According to Talmudic writers, the Sadducees believed there was no other world except what we presently live in, that the soul and spirit die with the body.)

Notice the outcome:

Vss7-9: "As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And 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?'"

.... Paul needs say nothing more. The Pharisees are now defending him. Notice that they are pretty much saying what Gamaliel had said many years earlier, concerning the mistreatment of Peter and John; "Stay away from these men and leave them alone, for it this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God." (Cf. Acts 5:34-39)

When the Roman commander sees that the things are about to come to blows, he takes charge.

Vs10:"And 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."

.... Has Jesus been a part of all this? After all, in the great commission, He said that He would be with us always. Here we next see something wonderful indeed.

Vs11: "But 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.'"

.... Think about how many times this precious man has borne witness to Israel's Messiah. Now the Lord appears in a vision to Paul. He is to take courage. Paul's testimony must continue right up to Rome. This is what the apostle has in mind when he later writes, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith!" (2Tim4:7)

Vss12-22: Synopsis - More than 40 Jews bind themselves under oath to not eat or drink until they have killed Paul. The chief priests are to have Paul brought before the Council for further examination. Paul's nephew hears of the conspiracy, tells it to Paul, and Paul has the nephew brought to the commander. This is the background for Paul's relocating elsewhere. (You may wish to read these verses.)

... We may wonder what happened to these 40 men and their oath, but during that time it was an easy thing to be absolved of an oath. The religious leaders claimed power of binding and loosing, and could easily release someone from an oath.

Vs23,24: "And 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.' They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor."

.... Caesarea is about 70 miles from Jerusalem. The commander knows that the Jews can go to great lengths to accomplish their goals. He also knows that this man Paul is a man of importance. He has the troops ready by 9 p.m., before the request can be given to him by the Council, for Paul to be brought to them. There are 200 foot soldiers, and 70 cavalry men. This commander had no intention of letting the Jews get a hold of Paul. Behind all this is Paul's Roman citizenship.

The Romans treat Paul with respect. The problem is that no reason could be found to place Paul in bonds of any sort. The Romans had to be quite careful how they dealt with him. Interestingly enough, the Romans could be fierce in dealing with conquered peoples, but very concerned when it came to Roman citizenship. This is why to hold Roman citizenship at that time was a great honor.

Vss25-30: Synopsis - This concerns the letter sent to Felix, by the commander explaining what he can about Paul. (You may want to read this portion.)

Vss31-34: Synopsis: The soldiers and their charge travel to Antipatris. Next morning the foot soldiers return to Jerusalem, and the horsemen travel with Paul on to Caesarea. There Paul is presented to the governor. Knowing that Paul is a Roman citizen, he asks which province he is from, and Paul tells him Cilicia.

The chapter closes with:

Vs35: "'I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,' giving orders for him to be kept in Herod's Praetorium."

.... The commander had ordered Paul's accusers to present their case before Felix. During this time Paul is kept in Herod's Praetorium, which is actually a palace. You can be sure that Paul is given considerable liberty for friends to visit with him. We know that Luke is with him during all this time.

As we continue our journey with Paul for the remainder of Acts, the story will continue with added interest. Every time Paul makes a defense, it becomes an opportunity for the furtherance of the gospel.

This study was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.

Page added October 22, 2004


August 23, 1997
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