The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Acts 23

Act 23:1

Acts 23,24: "There is a distinct similarity betw the experiences of Paul and those of Christ, and both faced the trials brought against them by their contemporaries and the Gentiles. Acts 23 records the trial of Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin, whilst in Acts 24 he appears before the governor Felix. Though, like his Lord whom he, as Saul of Tarsus, would have witnessed at the trials in Jerusalem, Paul is acquitted of the charges against him, but nevertheless continues in bonds. He also faced a plot against his life, as the Lord was betrayed by his fellows. So the record reveals: [1] Paul's defence before the Sanhedrin: vv 1-9. [2] Divine encouragement for Paul: vv 10,11. [3] Plot to Murder Paul: vv 12-22. [4] Paul is sent to Caesarea: vv 23-35. [5] Accused by Judaizers in Caesarea: Act 24:1-9. [6] Paul's confession of faith: Act 24:10-21. [7] Paul kept bound by Felix: Act 24:22-27.

"As in the case of the Lord, so in the trial of Paul, the Gentile authorities sought to placate the murderous intent of the Jews (Act 24:27), and therefore became implicated in the same crime" (GEM).

PAUL LOOKED STRAIGHT AT THE SANHEDRIN: "Earnestly" (AV), as though to awaken in them some twinge of conscience.

THE SANHEDRIN: The same council which, about 22 years before, had commissioned Saul of Tarsus to hunt down and imprison and execute Christians.

I HAVE FULFILLED MY DUTY: "Politeuomai" = to behave as a citizen. Cp Phi 1:27; 3:20 (sw).

Act 23:2

THE HIGH PRIEST ANANIAS ORDERED THOSE STANDING NEAR PAUL TO STRIKE HIM ON THE MOUTH: Paul did not use the courteous address of "Fathers" in v 1. Does the High Priest resent this?

Cp Micaiah in 1Ki 22:24; Jeremiah in Jer 20:2; Christ in John 18:22.

Act 23:3

WHITEWASHED WALL: "That is, thou hypocrite -- a mud-wall, trash and dirt and rubbish underneath, but plastered over, or white-washed. It is the same comparison in effect with that of Christ, when he compares the Pharisees to whited sepulchres (Mat 23:27). Those that daubed with untempered mortar failed not to daub themselves over with something that made them look not only clean, but gay" (Henry). Cp Eze 13:10.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" (Mat 23:27). It is said that at Passover time, all sepulchres near Jerusalem were marked out and freshly marked with whitewash -- to warn passersby against unwittingly touching them and being contaminated.

Prob Paul's words were an inspired utterance, as Christ had promised in Mat 10:18,19.

Act 23:5

I DID NOT REALIZE THAT HE WAS THE HIGH PRIEST: "At regular meetings of the Sanhedrin, the high priest presided and would have been identifiable for that reason. But this was not a regular meeting, and the high priest may not have occupied his usual place or worn his robes of office. Also, since Paul had visited Jerusalem only sporadically during the past twenty years, and since the high priest's office had passed from one to another within certain priestly families... Paul might very well not have known who the high priest in AD 58 was -- Ananias who reigned since AD 48 or Ishmael ben Phabi who took the office in AD 58-59. Nor, in fact, would he have known any of the current high priestly claimants by sight. All he could do when told he was speaking to the high priest was apologize -- though more to the office than to the man -- and acknowledge by citing Scripture that... he had no intention... to act contrary to the law or do less than the law commanded" (EBC).

Other possibilities: (a) Ananias was not now the legal High Priest, but was filling the office temporarily (Tes 51:279); (b) 'A true High Priest would never act the way you just did!'; or (c) 'I Paul recognize no one but Jesus Christ as the true High Priest of Israel!' (Perhaps more than one of these are true at the same time!)

Act 23:6

SOME OF THEM WERE SADDUCEES AND THE OTHERS PHARISEES: Paul knows that he cannot expect justice from such a council, so he resolves to set one faction against another. Or, better perhaps, he appeals to one faction (the Pharisees) who just might listen to him.

I AM A PHARISEE: In exploiting the division amongst those who opposed him, Paul was not avoiding the issue. Rather, he was highlighting that he had a consistent message, but that they -- his enemies -- could not even agree among themselves.

HOPE IN THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD: The KJV has "hope AND resurrection of the dead", but NIV is better.

Act 23:8

"The Sadducees did not believe any such species of beings as angels, nor indeed any spirits whatever, which were immaterial or immortal; for as for the spirit or soul of man, they took that to be only the temperament of the body, and that it died with it, and did not exist in any separate state after this life: for so Josephus says, that they deny the permanence of the soul, and rewards and punishments in the invisible state. And, according to the Talmudic writers, they denied that there was any other world than this" (Gill).

"The Sadducees were descendants of the Hasmoneans, who looked back to Mattathias, Judas, Jonathan, and Simon (168-134 BC) as having inaugurated the Messianic Age (cf Book of Jubilees 23:23-30; 31:9-20; 1Mac 14:4-15,41) and saw themselves as perpetuating what their fathers had begun. As priests from the tribe of Levi, they claimed to represent ancient orthodoxy and were uninterested in innovations. Thus they opposed any developments in Biblical law (ie, the 'Oral Law'), speculations about angels or demons, and the doctrine of the resurrection (cf Act 23:8; Mar 12:18; Jos War II, 119 [viii.2], 164,165 [viii.14]; Jos Ant XIII, 171-73 [v.9]; XVIII, 11 [i.1], 16-17 [i.4]). Likewise, they rejected what they considered to be vain hopes for God's heavenly intervention in the life of the nation and for a coming Messiah, since, as they believed, the age of God's promise had begun with the Maccabean heroes and was continuing on under their supervision. For them, the Messiah was an ideal, not a person, and the Messianic Age was a process, not a cataclysmic or even datable event. Furthermore, as political rulers and dominant landlords, to whom a grateful nation had turned over all political and economic powers during the time of the Maccabean supremacy, for entirely practical reasons they stressed cooperation with Rome and maintenance of the status quo. Most of the priests were of Sadducean persuasion; the temple police force was composed entirely of Levites; the captain of the temple guard was always a high-caste Sadducee, and so were each of the high priests" (EBC).

Act 23:9

WHAT IF A SPIRIT OR AN ANGEL HAS SPOKEN TO HIM?: In which the Sadducees did not even believe! It looks as though the Pharisees are getting into Paul's spirit of things, and now arguing with the Sadducees!

Act 23:10

The Great Sanhedrin was joined to the Tower of Antonia by a stairway. The Roman captain could hear the uproar.

Act 23:11

Other visions by night: Act 18:9; 27:23,24.

AS YOU HAVE TESTIFIED ABOUT ME IN JERUSALEM: Even though no one seems to have listened!

Act 23:15

Just as with Jesus, the Chief priest and Sanhedrin conspire together -- contrary to the Law -- to kill an innocent man.

Act 23:16

Paul, previously estranged, now seems to be reconciled to his family.

Act 23:17

ONE OF THE CENTURIONS: Every NT ref shows centurions in a good light: Luk 7:1-10; 23:47; Act 10:1,2; 22:25,26; 23:17,18; 27:43.

Act 23:26

FELIX: Procurator of Judea under Claudius and Nero (AD 52-60), and one before whom Paul was brought to trial in Caesarea (Acts 23:24--24:27). The descriptions by Tacitus are classic. "He thought he could do any evil act with impunity", and "(He) exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave."

Felix listened to Paul's defense, postponed any decision pending more information from Lysias, the Roman commander in Jerusalem who had originally arrested Paul (Acts 21:33), often listened to and conversed with the apostle, but left him in prison, hoping for a bribe and also as a move pleasing to the Jews.

Felix was noted for his cruelty (he aided in the assassination of a High Priest) and his licentiousness (he had four wives). Felix had married Drusilla, a Jewess and a sister of Agrippa II, when she was about 16 years of age, after having persuaded her to leave her husband for him. Paul's reasoning with them (Acts 24:25) may be compared to John the Baptist's accusing Herod Antipas and Herodias of an illicit relationship (Mar 6:18).

In AD 60, Felix was recalled by Nero and was replaced in office by Festus.

Act 23:27

FOR I HAD LEARNED THAT HE IS A ROMAN CITIZEN: Claudius Lysias has the order of his facts a little muddled! He writes the report so as to present himself in the best light.

Act 23:31

ANTIPATRIS: About 38 miles away.

Act 23:33

CAESAREA: Paul returned bound to the city where Agabus had so recently given his prophecy (Act 21:10,11).

Act 23:34

AND ASKED WHAT PROVINCE HE WAS FROM: Prob hoping to "pass the buck" to Herod (Luk 23:8).
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