Acts 23:1-10 . PAUL'S DEFENSE BEFORE THE SAMHEDRIM DIVIDES THE RIVAL FACTIONS, FROM WHOSE VIOLENCE THE COMMANDANT HAS THE APOSTLE REMOVED INTO THE FORTRESS.
1. Paul, earnestly beholding the council--with a look of conscious integrity and unfaltering courage, perhaps also recognizing some of his early fellow pupils.
I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day--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.
2. the high priest . . . commanded . . . to smite him on the mouth--a method of silencing a speaker common in the East to this day [HACKET]. But for a judge thus to treat a prisoner on his "trial," for merely prefacing his defense by a protestation of his integrity, was infamous.
3, 4. God shall smite thee--as indeed He did; for he was killed by an assassin during the Jewish war [JOSEPHUS, Wars of the Jews, 2.17.9].
thou whited wall--that is, hypocrite ( Matthew 23:27 ). This epithet, however correctly describing the man, must not be defended as addressed to a judge, though the remonstrance which follows--"for sittest thou," &c.--ought to have put him to shame.
5. I wist not . . . that he was the high priest--All sorts of explanations of this have been given. The high priesthood was in a state of great confusion and constant change at this time (as appears from JOSEPHUS), and the apostle's long absence from Jerusalem, and perhaps the manner in which he was habited or the seat he occupied, with other circumstances to us unknown, may account for such a speech. But if he was thrown off his guard by an insult which touched him to the quick, "what can surpass the grace with which he recovered his self-possession, and the frankness with which he acknowledged his error? If his conduct in yielding to the momentary impulse was not that of Christ Himself under a similar provocation ( John 18:22 John 18:23 ), certainly the manner in which he atoned for his fault was Christ-like" [HACKET].
6-9. when Paul perceived--from the discussion which plainly had by this time arisen between the parties.
that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out--raising his voice above both parties.
I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee--The true reading seems to be, "the son of Pharisees," that is, belonging to a family who from father to son had long been such.
of the hope and resurrection of the dead--that is, not the vague hope of immortality, but the definite expectation of the resurrection.
I am called in question--By this adroit stroke, Paul engages the whole Pharisaic section of the council in his favor; the doctrine of a resurrection being common to both, though they would totally differ in their application of it. This was, of course, quite warrantable, and the more so as it was already evident that no impartiality in trying his cause was to be looked for from such an assembly.
8. the Sadducees say . . . there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor
the scribes . . . of the Pharisees' part . . . strove, saying, We find no evil in this man, but--as to those startling things which he brings to our ears.
if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him--referring, perhaps, to his trance in the temple, of which he had told them ( Acts 22:17 ). They put this favorable construction upon his proceedings for no other reason than that they had found him one of their own party. They care not to inquire into the truth of what he alleged, over and above their opinions, but only to explain it away as something not worth raising a noise about. (The following words, "Let us not fight against God," seem not to belong to the original text, and perhaps are from Acts 5:39 . In this case, either the meaning is, "If he has had some divine communication, what of that?" or, the conclusion of the sentence may have been drowned in the hubbub, which Acts 23:10 shows to have been intense).
10. the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled to pieces . . . commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force, &c.--This shows that the commandant was not himself present, and further, that instead of the Sanhedrim trying the cause, the proceedings quickly consisted in the one party attempting to seize the prisoner, and the other to protect him.
Acts 23:11-35 . IN THE FORTRESS PAUL IS CHEERED BY A NIGHT VISION--AN INFAMOUS CONSPIRACY TO ASSASSINATE HIM IS PROVIDENTIALLY DEFEATED, AND HE IS DESPATCHED BY NIGHT WITH A LETTER FROM THE COMMANDANT TO FELIX AT CÆSAREA, BY WHOM ARRANGEMENTS ARE MADE FOR A HEARING OF HIS CAUSE.
11. the night following--his heart perhaps sinking, in the solitude of his barrack ward, and thinking perhaps that all the predictions of danger at Jerusalem were now to be fulfilled in his death there.
the Lord--that is, Jesus.
stood by him . . . Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou . . . also at Rome--that is, "Thy work in Jerusalem is done, faithfully and well done; but thou art not to die here; thy purpose next to 'see Rome' ( Acts 19:21 ) shall not be disappointed, and there also must thou bear witness of Me." As this vision was not unneeded now, so we shall find it cheering and upholding him throughout all that befell him up to his arrival there.
15. Now . . . ye with the council signify to the chief captain . . . as though, &c.--That these high ecclesiastics fell in readily with this infamous plot is clear. What will not unscrupulous and hypocritical religionists do under the mask of religion? The narrative bears unmistakable internal marks of truth.
or ever he come near--Their plan was to assassinate him on his way down from the barracks to the council. The case was critical. but He who had pledged His word to him that he should testify for Him at Rome provided unexpected means of defeating this well-laid scheme.
16-22. Paul's sister's this time residing at Jerusalem for his education, like Paul himself, he may have got at the schools those hints of the conspiracy on which he so promptly acted.
19. took him by the hand--This shows that he must have been quite in his boyhood, and throws a pleasing light on the kind-hearted impartiality of this officer.
21. and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee--Thus, as is so often the case with God's people, not till the last moment, when the plot was all prepared, did deliverance come.
23, 24. two hundred soldiers--a formidable guard for such an occasion; but Roman officials felt their honor concerned in the preservation of the public peace, and the danger of an attempted rescue would seem to require it. The force at Jerusalem was large enough to spare this convoy.
the third hour of the night--nine o'clock.
26-30. Claudius--the Roman name he would take on purchasing his citizenship.
Lysias--his Greek family name.
the most excellent governor--an honorary title of office.
27. came I with an army--rather, "with the military."
29. perceived to be accused of questions of their law, &c.--Amidst all his difficulty in getting at the charges laid against Paul, enough, no doubt, come out to satisfy him that the whole was a question of religion, and that there was no case for a civil tribunal.
30. gave commandment to his accusers . . . to say before thee--This was not done when he wrote, but would be before the letter reached its destination.
31, 32. brought him . . . to Antipatris--nearly forty miles from Jerusalem, on the way to Cæsarea; so named by Herod in honor of his father, Antipater.
32. On the morrow they--the infantry.
left the horsemen--themselves no longer needed as a guard. The remaining distance was about twenty-five or twenty-six miles.
34, 35. asked of what province he was--the letter describing him as a Roman citizen.
35. I will hear thee--The word means, "give thee a full hearing."
to be kept in Herod's judgment hall--"prætorium," the palace built at Cæsarea by Herod, and now occupied by the Roman procurators; in one of the buildings attached to which Paul was ordered to be kept.