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Bible: What Does Acts 23 Teach Us About Paul's Legal Troubles?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Apostle Paul




Liberals of Paul's Day

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Acts 23--Paul's Defense Before the Sanhedrin/Their Conspiracy Detected/Lysias Sends the Apostle to Felix in Caesarea

Paul's Trial Before Ananias the High Priest

Addressing the Sanhedrin, Paul immediately asserts his spiritual and moral integrity before them (v. 1).

In response to this bold statement, Ananias the high priest orders those standing nearby to strike Paul on the mouth (v. 2).

[Slap or punch? Someone presumably moves to obey him, but the text does not explicitly state that he accomplished his task.]

While objecting to this unlawful treatment, the apostle nevertheless does not fight back except with words, threatening God’s judgment upon Ananias and calling him a descriptive name (“whitewashed wall”) [v. 3a].

[Jesus used a similar term to depict the Pharisees’ superficial purity (cf. Matt. 23:37)].

He points out the hypocrisy of the high priest who intended to sit in judgment upon him while illicitly striking him (v. 3b).

[Where doesTorah say that this action is unlawful?]

Recognizing a violation of the Law in Paul’s retort against the high priest, attendants verbally defend Ananias (v. 4).

Paul, perhaps sarcastically claiming ignorance of the high priest’s identity, quotes the OT commandment that he had supposedly broken (v. 5; cf. Ex. 22:28).

Paul Divides the Assembly

Just then, the apostle perceives that the assembly is divided politically and religiously—half Pharisee, half Sadducee—, so he proceeds to widen that rift by asserting both his standing as a Pharisee and his adherence to this party’s belief in the resurrection of the body as the reason why he is on trial (vv. 6-7).

Luke points out that Sadducees disbelieved in this particular teaching as well as related ones, while the Pharisees firmly espoused them all (v. 8).

The latter group arises in the assembly and acquits Paul of any wrongdoing, positing that he may have received revelation from an emissary of God (v. 9).

More turmoil results from this statement, so much so that Lysias again needs to send troops to remove Paul from the midst of the rival groups and take him into the barracks (v. 10).

Paul's "Savior"

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Paul's Nephew

The Lord visits Paul a fourth time—on this occasion in a vision on “the following night” (9:5;18:9-10; 22:17-18; and here; see Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 251)—and encourages him with the news that He will send him to testify to the emperor in Rome, because he has been a faithful witness to Him in Jerusalem (v. 11).

Unknown to the apostle, however, is the news that a band of more than forty Jewish assassins has conspired to murder him (vv. 12-13).

These rogues inform the chief priests and elders of their intentions, telling them to ask Lysias to bring Paul back for further examination; in the mean time, they would lie in wait nearby (vv. 14-15).

Paul’s nephew providentially hears of their plans, and warns the apostle about them when he visited his uncle in the barracks (v. 16).

Paul sends the young man with a soldier to Lysias to report his discovery (v. 17), and the soldier faithfully relays the apostle’s instructions (v. 18).

Lysias and Paul’s nephew have a private conversation in which the boy relates the Jews’ conspiracy to murder the apostle on the next day while the commander’s soldiers are transporting him to the council for further inquiry (vv. 19-20).

[Paul’s nephew must have been old enough to speak so eloquently and accurately to the commander, yet young enough to need someone to take his hand.]

The lad strongly urges the commander not to give the Jews permission to bring Paul down; he knows all the intimate details of the enemy’s intentions, having apparently eavesdropped on their planning session (v. 21).

Lysias dismisses the boy with the admonition not to tell anyone about their words together (v. 22).



Paul Sent to Caesarea

The commander decides to send Paul to Caesarea early in the morning under heavy protective custody, ordering his centurions to provide horses for the apostle and to deliver him safely to Felix the governor.

(Ryrie identifies Felix as the Roman procurator of Judea from A. D. 52 to probably A. D. 58)[vv. 23-24]).

[Since the ride from Jerusalem to Caesarea was long, Paul needed more than one horse to transport him.]

Lysias' Letter to Governor Felix

While the centurions are presumably preparing for the trip, Lysias pens a letter to Felix, addressing him as “the most excellent governor” (vv. 25-26; cf. Luke 1:3).

He tells the procurator the truth about rescuing Paul from the Jews, but conveniently omits the fact that he himself had ordered the apostle’s scourging before learning that the latter was a Roman (v. 27).

Lysias relates his desire to ascertain the reason for the Jews’ charges against Paul, and records his discovery that their accusations pertained to Jewish legal questions, not to matters of capital or felonious offenses (vv. 28-29).

Carefully guarding the identity of his informant (Paul’s nephew) who told him that certain Jews planned to murder Paul, Lysias tells Felix that he has transferred the apostle to him with the stipulation that Paul’s opponents bring formal charges against him (v. 30).

The commander’s soldiers keep the apostle safe as far as Antipatris, and then give charge of his welfare to the horsemen while they return to the barracks (vv. 31-32).

The latter deliver both Lysias’ letter and Paul to Felix in Caesarea (v. 33).

When Felix hears that Paul’s hometown province was Cilicia, the procurator decides to house the apostle in Herod’s Praetorium (headquarters) until his accusers arrived (vv. 34-35).

[Charles Ryrie’s note detailing Roman law adds greater understanding of this period.]

© 2013 glynch1


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