PAUL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIM.
How far it is proper to avail ourselves of differences and dissensions among others in defending ourselves.
Question to be solved.—Circumstances of the case.—The tumult.—Th» rescue.—Address to the people.—Renewed excitement.—Convening 01 the Sanhedrim.—No hope of justice.—Course pursued by Paul—flijr. turns to his conduct.—He was not literally a Pharisee.—Not actually on trial about the resurrection.—This was not a fair defence, therefore, but a trick.—Vindication of his conduct.—(1.) The Sanhedrim had no real authority; were not investigating impartially; and there was bu* on< course by which a hearing could be obtained.—(2.) The ri1rference o' which Paul availed himself was already existing.—(3.) On this one doctrine, Paul did agree with the Pharisees.—(4.) Of this doctrine h» had a proof more convincing than tradition; or analogy; or Old Test* ment Scripture (in which the Sadducees denied it; from which Chris' did not quote; and in which we but dimly perceive it);—more convincing because a fact.—(5.) It was this doctrine, thus held, for whic. Paul suffered.
"Hat wl1rn Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees. and theotbr 1 ha1isees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Fharisae ihe son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am call:. in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the multitude was divided."
Acts xxiii. 6, 7.
THE particular point suggested by the case H which is now to come under consideration, relates to a question respecting the manliness, the candour, the nobleness, the fairness, the straightforwardness of the apostle, in availing himself of a difference of opinion among his accusers and judges; in seeking to produce dissension in the Sanhedrim; in claiming to be a Pharisee; in stating that that for which he was now on trial was the doctrine which distinguished the Pharisees from the Sadducees,—the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The objection would be that this was a mere trick on his part, unworthy of a great orator, of a great apostle, and of an honest man; that it indicated a small species of adroitness or cunning fitted to a " pettifogger" or a special pleader; that it bordered very nearly on the arts of a "trimmer;" that he sought to confound his adversaries and secure his own safety, rather than to defend the truth; and that the position which he took —namely, that he was a Pharisee (in the sense in which they would understand it), and that the actual thing for which he was called in question was the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead—was irreconcilable with the truth of the case.
In connexion with this it is to be observed that it may become a question of importance for us, how far we may avail ourselves of the peculiar opinions of others, and of their differences or dissensions, in carrying a point in argument, or in securing our safety when accused, or in vindicating our character when assa1led or v\ defending the truth. In other words, t11e auestion would be, "What is manly, dignified, fair, honourable in such circumstances?" This may be determined by a full understanding of the apostle's case, to which, therefore, we may limit our attention.
To illustrate the subject, it will be necessary to consider the circumstances of the apostle at this time; to examine, more at length, the nature of the objections which could be urged against his conduct; and to ascertain whether that conduct can be vindicated, as being consistent with fairness, truth, and honour.
I. The circumstances preceding and attending the case.
In the previous chapter we considered the proposal made to Paul, and adopted by him, that he should take part in a vow which had been made by some members of the church in Jerusalem, and should thus show in a public manner that he was not hostile to the institutions of Moses. The hope of thus preventing an excitement among the Jews, however, proved to be vain. Certain "Jews which were of Asia," that, is, of Asia Minor, where he had laboured so long and so effectually, saw him in the courts of the temple, and "stirred up all the people," laying hands on him as an enemy of their religion, and accusing him of having polluted the temple. This was sufficient to produce the deepest excitement. The multitude rushed upon him with fury, hurried him out of the holy place, and "went about to kill him." From this danger Paul was rescued by the chief captain of the Roman guard, stationed in the Tower of Antonia. This was but a short distance from the spot where this scene of violence was occurring, and it is probable that the tumult had been witnessed by the sentries on duty. Intelligence was at once sent to the chief captain that "all Jerusalem was in an uproar," and forthwith he came with a band of soldiers, and rescued Paul from the hands of his murderers. Failing to learn the cause of this disturbance from the multitude, among whom "some cried one thing, some another," and supposing him to be the Egyptian concerned in a recent rebellion, he secured him with chains, and carried him into the tower (Acts xxi. 27—34).
To the surprise of the chief captain Paul respectfully addressed him in Greek, and requested permission to address the people. "I am a man," he said, "which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and, I beesech thee, suffer mc to speak unto the people" (ver. 39). The fact that he was a Jew identified him with the people who cried "away with him;" the fact that he was of Tarsus explained the reason why he was able to "speak Greek," for Tarsus (as we have seen) was, in the celebrity of its schools, second only to Athens; the fact that he was a "citizen of no mean city"—Ovk am'1fiov noXtu)?, not a city undistinguished, unknown, uncultivated, and rude—was a reason why he was entitled to respectful treatment, and why it might be presumed that he would do nothing against the rules of propriety. Lysias, the chief captain, willing to adopt any mild measures by which he might ascertain the cause of the tumult, and by which he might hope that the passions of the people would be calmed down, readily granted his request (Acts xxi. 35—40).
Standing on the stairs, Paul then delivered one of the most beautiful of all his addresses. Speaking to the multitude in their own native language, not as a foreigner, but as an educated Hebrew, he at once secured their attention. He told them of his early life, and informed them that, though born in Tarsus, he had been brought up in Jerusalem and at the feet of Gamaliel, a Rabbi known to them all. He referred to his zeal for God; his persecution of the Christians; the confidence placed in him by the high priest and elders; and the commission which they gave him. He narrated the circumstances of his conversion; the announcement brought to him by Ananias, as to the purpose for which he had been thus arrested; and the marvellous vision which he subsequently had, in the temple itself, commanding him to bear to the Gentiles the message of salvation (Acts xxii. 1—21).
Up to this point they heard him patiently. But when he spoke of his mission to the Gentiles, he was interrupted by a burst of indignation. The violent words and furious gestures of the multitude led Lysias, who evidently had not understood what the apostle was saying in the Hebrew tongue, to conclude that he must have committed some great crime. To ascertain what this was, he proposed now to subject him to the torture,—to examine him by scourging.1 In danger of this enormous wrong, helpless and defenceless, Paul now, to the amazement of the Roman chiliarch, availed himself of his right as a Roman citizen, as he had done on a former occasion at Philippi. But one thing now remained for the Roman military commander to try. It occurred to him that by a form of trial before the Jewish Sanhedrim itself, he might ascertain the true source of all this disturbance; that perhaps the case might, without further trouble, be disposed of as a Jewish matter before that tribunal; or that, at any rate, he might obtain light to direct him in his duty. On the following day, therefore, the Sanhedrim was convened, and Paul was brought before them that the cause might be heard and determined (Acts xxii. 22—30).
1 Greek; to inquire strictly; then, to "put to the question;" to force confession by scourging—fiaaniiv avirajjufla1.
It was then and there that the scene occurred, which we have now under consideration. Paul having begun, as usual, in the most respectful manner,—" Men and brethren,"—calmly asserted that he had endeavoured always to live a life of integrity;—" I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day " (Acts xxiii.
1) . This was a solemn affirmation that he had done only what every good man ought to do. He had acted in accordance with the demands of conscience.
The manner in which this was received showed that he had nothing to hope from the council in regard to justice;—"the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by to smite him on the mouth " (Acts xxiii.
2) . This act on the part of him who occupied the place of high priest, was so contrary to all the rules of justice, and indicated so settled a determination to condemn him, as to change the whole course of things. After an indignant rebuke for an act so uncalled for, after a solemn declaration that God would smite a man who was merely a "whited wall,"—a man who was like a wall painted or whitewashed, and who was not what he pretended to be, or appeared to be ;—a man who "had the semblance of the high priest's office without the reality" (Lightfoofy—Paul, for his own safety, resorted to the course which now claims our notice. Seeing that
1 "If we consider these words as an outburst of natural indignation, we cannot severely blame them, when we remember St. Paul's temperament, and how they were provoked. If we regard them as a prophetic denunciation, they were terribly fulf1lled, when this hypocritical president of the Sanhedrim was murdered by the assassins in the Jewish war." (Josephus, Bell. Jud. ii. 17, 9).—Conybeare and Howson, vol. ii. p. 282.
there were two parties in the Sanhedrim, he resolved to divide and distract their counsels, and to trust for his own safety to the protection of the Roman power.
II. This brings us, in the second place, to the statement of the objections which might be urged against his conduct. These have already been adverted to in a general manner, but they are such as to demand a more particular specification. They involve the whole question of honesty and fairness in this transaction; and they suggest the inquiry, how far such a course is allowable and proper for a Christian.
The objections to the course pursued by Paul, might be such as the following :—
(1.) That when he said he was a "Pharisee," it was not true in the sense which the term would naturally convey, and in which they would understand it. It would be alleged that in the sense in which they were Pharisees, he was not a Pharisee. He was not associated with them; he was not identified with them; he was not reckoned as one of them. He was not now of their party. Long since, on becoming a Christian, he had renounced all connexion with them, and had everywhere opposed their characteristic opinions, their doctrines, their practice, their respect for tradition, their regard for show, parade, and ostentation, for broad phylacteries, and for the chief places in the synagogues, and their public prayers and charities. Eminently and entirely, also, he was opposed to their views of justification before God,—their system of selt-righteousness,— and had preached a doctrine diametrically and totallycontrary to theirs in respect to the way of salvation. Nothing could be more unlike than the view which he held, that a man can be saved only by faith, and the view which they held that good works, an outwardly blameless life, and conformity to the rites and ceremonies of the law, can constitute the ground of hope towards God. Wherever he went, he had done more than any other man to hold up their religion as false and ruinous, and to turn mankind from it. In what sense, then, could he claim to be one of their number?
(2.) It might be alleged that what he affirmed to be the main point involved in his present troubles, "the hope and resurrection of the dead," was not really the point for which he was "called in question," but for sett1ng aside the laws and institutions of Moses; for undervaluing the Hebrew institutions; for apostasy from the faith in which he was trained; and specifically and directly, as charged upon him, for polluting the temple by bringing Greeks into it. Going back to the source of the present difficulty, and the immediate matter before the council, these were the only offences charged on him,—and no allusion whatever, not even the most remote, had been made to what he here affirms to have been the chief thing—the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. How then could l1e honestly say that it was "for the lwpe and resurrection of the dead" that he was being judged (tfd> Kpfvo/uar)? How could he say that this was the point for which he stood before that august tribunal?
(3.) It may be urged, therefore, that this was the trick of an orator rather than the act of a noble-minded man; that it was a cunning attempt to turn the mind from the main point at issue in order that he might save himself; that it was designed to embarrass, and divide, and confuse, but that it constituted no defence in regard to the charges which had been brought against him ; and that it had no tendency to enlighten the mind of Lysias respecting the cause of the trouble, or to aid him in the performance of his duty.
It cannot be denied that there is much plausibility in these objections, and it cannot be doubted that there are candid minds that are troubled bv them, and that would be glad to have the difficulties suggested by them removed.
III. This leads us then, thirdly, to consider the question whether the conduct of Paul can be vindicated as consistent with fairness, honour, manliness, and truth.
(1.) We are to bear in mind that the Sanhedrim had no real authority in the matter; that they had no right to pronounce a sentence of acquittal or condemnation, that they had properly no jurisdiction over the case whatever, and that the matter had not been submitted to them at all with that view. They had, indeed, a certain jurisdiction over questions pertaining to their law and their religion; but this was not one of those questions. It was solely a matter which had been referred to them by a Roman magistrate in order U ascertain the cause of the riot, the tumult, the disorder, which had endangered the life of the apostle, and which constituted "a breach of the peace." That was a matter which pertained to the Roman authority exclusively, and of which the chief captain, as entrusted with the military command in Jerusalem, was bound to take cognizance. Lysias of his own accord, determined to bring the matter before this council, to ascertain one point alone,—" wherefore he was accused of the Jews" (Acts xxii. 30). That one thing discovered, if it could be, the case would then be entirely in the hands of the Roman authorities.
But even in regard to this point, it was manifest at the very opening of the trial, that there was no hope of justice; no likelihood of securing the expression of ;i candid opinion. There was evidence that they would not hear his explanations, and that their minds were already made up to condemn him as the cause of the disorder. The command given by the high priest at the the very commencement of the investigation, so contrary to every principle of justice, and so clearly indicating a determined purpose to condemn the accused,—took away all prospect of obtaining a fair hearing, and of securing a just opinion of the case. The members of the Sanhedrim were prejudiced and passionate men; they were resolved on Paul's condemnation; their minds had been already made up in the matter.
If now, in this state of things, Paul could prove that, in condemning him, as it was manifest they were determined to do, the majority in the council would condemn themselves, and must deny their own peculiar doctrines —doctrines for which they had always been contending, could it be regarded as unfair or unmanly to show them that this must be so? If, without perverting the truth in any way, he could convince them that he had been suffering for what he and they held in common, and for what was a vital principle in their religion, would it be improper for him to endeavour to add their testimony to the truth of the doctrine, and at the same time to secure their influence in his favour? If this could be done, it seems difficult to see why it might not be done. It is certain that this was his aim. Whether this could be done, consistently with truth and candour, it must be admitted is a fair question. That question it is my object, in the following remarks, to examine.
(2.) There was, in fact, an important difference ot opinion in the Sanhedrim on the most vital subjects of religion. That difference of opinion Paul did not make, nor did he increase it . He found it already existing. They all knew that there was such a difference. That difference pertained, among other things, to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead; to the separate existence of the soul after death; to the future state; to the hope of a future life; and, consequently, to the judgment, and to the world of retribution,—for, if the soul has no existence after death, and there is no resurrection of the dead, there can be neither a judgment, a heaven, nor a hell. It embraced the entire question respecting the existence of angels and spirits, and consequently affected all the views which were held as to the unseen and the future world.
The difference of opinion on these subjects led to a complete difference of views and practice on the subject of religion,—a difference in worship, in hope, in .practical life; for what is, and must be, the religion of a man who has no belief in a resurrection and in the future state? What is his sense of responsibility? What hope can he cherish? What apprehension of the future will deter him from sin? What effort will he make to save men ?" Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die," must and will be the controlling maxim of his life. The problem to be solved by him will be, how to multiply, increase, and prolong the pleasures of sense, so as to make the most of life; and the practical life will be that of the voluptuary.1
It was impossible for Paul to magnify this difference beyond the reality, and he had a right to assume that this was a material and vital difference, and to act accordingly.
(3.) It was a matter of fact, also, that, so far as these two parties were concerned, Paul was wholly with the Pharisees. He had been educated in the strictest manner in the doctrine of the Pharisees, as distinguished from the Sadducees. His own father was a Pharisee; and, in the education of his son, had removed him from the place of his birth, and put him under the instruction of the most eminent Pharisee of his age.
1 Of the practical effect of the view of life here adverted to, history has furnished numerous illustrations. I would refer the reader to a collection of facts given by Dr. AfcCosh in his work on "The Divine Government, physical and moral" (pp. 245—247).
Paul had no sympathy with the Sadducees in the peculiarity of their views ; and there was not a man living, not even the most rigid of the Pharisees, who had a deeper abhorrence of the doctrine of the Sadducees, or a deeper sense of the danger of that doctrine, than he had. He had done more to propagate the doctrine of the Pharisees on these subjects than any Pharisee then living, even than Gamaliel himself.
The doctrines here adverted to, and on which Paul claimed to be united in opinion with the Pharisees, were the peculiar doctrines of the sect. That he might hold many other opinions in which he differed from the Pharisees was true; but he did hold these, and he held none that were inconsistent with these. Moreover, he attached all the importance to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead which the Pharisees had ever done. It had lost none of its value in his estimation by his having become a Christian. On the contrary, its importance had become intensified in his view by what he believed had actually occurred,—the resurrection of the crucified Messiah from the grave,—and by all the hopes of eternal life which he now cherished through Him. Let any one look into Paul's recorded addresses and into his writings, and he will see how prominent he made this truth. It lies at the foundation of all his preaching, and of all his arguments and appeals. On Mars' Hill, it was the very point which he sought to establish, and the very thing which repelled from him the Epicurean and the Stoic philosophers. We may see how prominent he made this subject elsewhere, If we read the noblest chapter that even Paul ever wrote, —the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians:—"If there be," says he, "no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not raised your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. N in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,"—iXtttvortpot, most the objects of compassion, most to be pitied,—since we have cherished more exalted hopes than any other men, only to be disappointed (1 Cor. xv. 13—19).
With this full conviction of the truth of the great doctrine in which he had been trained, Paul now stood before the Sanhedrim. In the view of the Pharisees, it was the great doctrine of religion,—the line of division between them and the Sadducees; and as it had this importance in their view, so it had in his. It was not strange, therefore, that he sought to give it this importance, as he stood before the Sanhedrim.
(4.) Paul held that doctrine now in a form which was to him most convincing,—which furnished to his mind the most certain confirmation of its truth (if not the only proof of its truth) in the fact that one had actually been raised from the dead; He had formerly held the doctrine on the same ground on which it was held by all the Pharisees—the ground of tradition; the ground of their interpretation of the Scriptures. We must bear in mind the different degrees of force between such arguments as these, and an argument derived from fad. We may easily suppose that as he stood before the Sanhedrim, he had the consciousness that he was now able to confirm the views in which he and they who agreed with him had been educated, by an argument vastly superior in strength to that in which they had been trained,—an argument which, in his view, removed all difficulties, silenced all objections, and put the question for ever at rest.
To see the full force of this, it may be necessary to advert to a few considerations such as we may suppose influenced the mind of Paul.
(a.) We are to remember how feeble and weak to a man who has arrived at an age to think for himself, is the proof of any doctrine considered merely as derived from education or tradition. Such evidence may indeed secure a belief of the doctrine, or prevent its utter abandonment, but still the mind asks for stronger evidence; and such traditionary and educational evidence cannot save a thinking mind from deep solicitude, or from many of the agitations of scepticism.
(6.) We are to remember how feeble and weak is the evidence of the resurrection of the dead, as derived from nature; how restless the human heart has been on the subject; how vague, fanciful, contradictory, and absurd have been the views which men have entertained of the future state; how unsatisfactory the reasonings of the most able minds on the whole matter. Even now the profoundest argument from nature for the immortality of the human soul is that of Plato in the Gorgias,—an argument, which would convince no man of the truth of the doctrine. Can we doubt that Paul, early instructed in the Greek philosophy, had become deeply impressed with the weakness of all arguments for the future state as derived from human reasoning?
(c.) We are to remember how comparatively slender is the proof of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as derived from the Old Testament,—the only proof except that derived from tradition on which the Pharisees could rely. It is not to be denied that the fact of the future state, and of the resurrection of the dead, is to be found there; but it must not be forgotten, that we contemplate this with the New Testament in our hands, and with the light which that throws on the meaning of the sacred writers under the old dispensation, and not as men would interpret it before the coming of the Saviour. To those who lived under that dispensation, and before the clearer light of the Gospel was revealed, the argument for the resurrection of the dead, might not have been, and could not have been, as plain as it is to us. A large party, and that the most learned party in the nation—the Sadducees—did not find the doctrine of the resurrection and the future state in the Old Testament. When the Saviour argued the question of the resurrection with the Sadducees, He did not claim that there was any explicit statement on the subject, but relied on an inference,—an argument which, though strong and conclusive in itself, was nevertheless not obvious, and was one which might not occur to others:—"Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of
Jacob, for He is not a God of the dead, but of the living" '(Luke xx. 37, 38). Assuredly, if there had been in the Jewish Scriptures any direct and clear proofs of the doctrine, He would not have relied on a mere inference in this form. Again there is much obscurity in the doctrine, as found in the Old Testament, even with all the light thrown upon the subject by the disclosures in the New Testament; so much so, that Bishop Warburton founded the entire argument for his "Divine Legation of Moses," on the fact, as he alleged, that Moses had entirely omitted all reference to the doctrine of the resurrection and the future state in his legislation. This argument is, indeed, paradoxical; but the fact that so plausible an argument could be made shows, at least, that the doctrine was not very prominent in the institutions of Moses, and may serve in some degree to explain the fact that the Sadducees did not find it there.
(d.) We have now to contrast with this, that, in the view of the apostle, a fact—an undoubted fact—had occurred in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the grave. This fact made absolutely certain the faith in which he and the Pharisees had been trained. Instead of the uncertain argument from tradition; instead of the doubtful arguments derived from nature; instead of the argument derived from the disputed interpretation of obscure passages of the Old Testament,—there was now a fact which put all doubts to rest. The actual resurrection of the Saviour from the grave must settle the possibility and the certainty of the resurrection (comp. 1 Cor. xv. 20—23). It was in this form that the apostle now held the doctrine, and this was the reason why he made it so prominent in the presence of the Sanhedrim.
(5.) It was this doctrine, as thus held, which was the real cause of all that Paul had suffered at home or abroad; and it was, in fact, this for which he had been "called in question." He had asserted, on all occasions, that Christ had risen from the dead, and had appeared to him after His resurrection. He had laid this doctrine at the very foundation of all his arguments for the truth of the Christian religion. This was vital to all his views of religion, and to all his personal hopes of salvation. For this he had endured persecution; and in order to diffuse a knowledge of this he had gone over the world, enduring all forms of privation and suffering.
Thus holding the great doctrine in which he and the Pharisees around him had been trained, and which they held in common,—thus believing that he held it in a form which made it absolutely certain,—and thus regarding it as lying at the very foundation of all true religion, and of all his own hopes, and of the hopes of a dying world in regard to a future state, it was not a mere piece of cunning and adroitness in argument; it was not an evasion of the main point at issue; it was not taking an unfair advantage of a mere prejudice; it was not acting an unmanly and disingenuous part, when "he cried out in the council, Men, brethren,—/ am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question."