Acts 23 Bible Study

Bible Study of Acts Chapter 23

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Acts 23 Bible Study


ACTS 23:1  1 Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day."

Had Paul "lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1)?
Not always. Before he became Paul, Saul was one of the greatest persecutors of the body of Christ: "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison." (Acts 8:3)

Did Paul think that he had always lived in good conscience before God?
Not at all. He wrote to the church in Corinth, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:9) He wrote to the churches in Galatia, "For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it." (Galatians 1:13) And just a day earlier, he had declared to the Jewish mob, "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished." (Acts 22:4-5)

Then why does he say that he has lived in all good conscience before God until this day?
He is talking about his life from the last time the leaders of Israel in the audience saw him "until this day" (Acts 23:1) for four reasons. First, Paul's two prior trips to Jerusalem had been to meet with the members of the Jerusalem church. The last time the leaders of Israel saw Paul was after his conversion and just before he left Jerusalem: "So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus." (Acts 9:28-30) Many if not most in the Sanhedrin knew Paul. Until his conversion, he had been a lead persecutor of Christians, an impeccable Pharisee, a student of Gamaliel no less, and for whom the chief priest had even written commendations. Had he remained unsaved, Paul probably would have ended up as a member of the Sanhedrin by this time. He was telling his former mentors and classmates how he has lived since the last time they saw him. Second, some if not many in the audience had heard him the day before, when his testimony was interrupted at his mention of being sent to the Gentiles: "Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’" And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks ..." (Acts 22:21-24) Paul was picking up where he left off and telling them how his years among the Gentiles had been lived. Third, the Jews had tried to kill him both before and after his testimony the day before, but had been prevented by the Romans, who had "commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear" (Acts 22:30). Upon "looking earnestly at the council" (Acts 23:1), Paul may have seen and been responding to "guilty" stares from many of those facing him. Fourth and most importantly, he was testifying to the power of salvation in Christ: "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Timothy 1:12-15)

ACTS 23:2  2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.

What did the high priest command?
When Jesus answered the then high priest on the night of His arrest, an officer "struck Jesus with the palm of his hand" (John 18:22). The original Greek expression conjugated in this phrase is didomi rhapisma, which literally means to "give [a] slap". By contrast, the original Greek verb translated "to strike" (Acts 23:2) above is tupto, which literally means to "beat", "injure", "harm" or "wound" with the "fist", "whip" or "staff". Ananias wanted "those" (Acts 23:2) near Paul to injure his "mouth" (Acts 23:2).

Why?
Ananias had heard or heard commentary about Paul's testimony the day before (see Acts 22) and didn't want to hear the rest of what Paul was beginning to say in this hearing, which had been forced upon the Sanhedrin by the Roman commander. More importantly, Satan wanted to stop Paul, who already had witnessed about Christ to the Jews in Jerusalem, from witnessing to the Romans both in Judea and in Rome.

ACTS 23:3-9  3 Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” 4 And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'"  6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.  8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection - and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. 9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God."

What is a "whitewashed wall" (Acts 23:3)?
It's a dirty wall whose dirt has been covered by a thin coat of paint.

Why did Paul call Ananias a whitewashed wall?
Ananias was being called a hypocrite for commanding other people to do his dirty work. At a trial supposedly aimed at rendering justice, he was telling others to inflict unjust bodily harm on Paul, who hadn't been found guilty: "For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?" (Acts 23:3)

Contrary to which "law" (Acts 23:3) was Paul being ordered struck?
"You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor."(Leviticus 19:15)

Was Ananias "God's high priest" (Acts 23:4)?
The office of the high priest was "God's" in the sense that he was in charge of offering to God the sacrifices, which pointed to Jesus. When Jesus offered the promised sacrifice - His own life - on the cross "once for all" (Romans 6:10), He became the High Priest: "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." (Hebrews 4:14). Israel's high priest remained the head of its government, albeit under the rule of Rome, but when Jesus died on the cross, the spiritual role of the high priest was eliminated, as symbolized by the temple's veil to where only the high priest could enter being ripped "from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51), for now all could enter into God's presence through Christ. Note that the question was posed to Paul regarding "God's high priest" (Acts 23:3) but Paul gave his answer regarding "high priest". Paul acknowledged Ananias as the latter - "ruler of your people" (Acts 23:5) - but not the former, and rightfully so.

Did Paul "revile" Ananias?
The original Greek word translated "revile" (Acts 23:4) is loidoreo, which means to "insult, slander or rail against" someone. The part of Paul's outburst that isn't true (yet) and could be possibly described as such are, "God will strike you" (Acts 23:3), and while Paul's response sounds like an admission, the only thing he explicitly admits to is not having known that Ananias was the high priest.

Then why did Paul say, "God will strike you" (Acts 23:3) to Ananias?
God may have been using Paul's outburst to level a prophecy against Ananias, who was appointed by Herod in 47 AD and proved himself one of the most corrupt and conniving thieves to serve in the post. He stole tithes from other priests, leaving many of them to starve, and cared more about the Roman overlords than Israel under his care. When the Jews later revolted against Rome, the Jewish rebels burned down Ananias' house and chased him down after he fled, "striking" him dead in the aqueduct of Herod's palace, where he was caught hiding.

Why did Paul not recognize Ananias as the high priest?
Had Paul been acquainted with Ananias when told whom he had just addressed, he would have said something to the effect, "Is that you, Ananias?" Paul's response - "I did not know ... that he was the high priest" (Acts 23:5) - indicates that Paul wasn't acquainted with Ananias, who had been appointed high priest in 47 AD. Ananias also may not have been sitting in the high priest's seat and/or not wearing the high priest's attire. Paul's poor eye sight - "See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!" (Galatians 6:11) - also may have been a contributing factor. (Note that this is Ananias, not Annas in whose courtyard Jesus' first of six trials were held - see John 18.)

So how many people 'injured' or 'wounded' Paul's mouth as "Ananias commanded" (Acts 23:2)?
Since Ananias commanded "those" (Acts 23:2) near Paul, he commanded at least two people. If everyone commanded had obliged, Paul's mouth would have been wounded by two or more people. If only one - perhaps the nearest - had obliged, then it would have been wounded only once. However, the command to inflict harm on Paul's mouth doesn't appear yet to have been carried out, for two reasons. For one, his mouth was working just fine. For another, given his harsh words for Ananias for ordering the unjustified violence, Paul is unlikely to have addressed as "brethren" (Acts 23:5) those who carried out that unjust violence.

For what "hope and resurrection of the dead" (Acts 23:6) was Paul being judged?
The resurrection of Christ, which proved His deity and the fact that He died to save us from our sins as He claimed before His death:
"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Corinthians 15:13-17)

Why did Paul suddenly shout that he was "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" (Acts 23:6)?
For one, he was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee. (Note that one could be a Christian and a Pharisee since Pharisees believed in resurrection, but you couldn't be a 'Sadducee Christian'
"for Sadducees say that there is no resurrection" (Acts 23:8) including that of Christ.) For another, the command to inflict harm on Paul's mouth, if still "live", had to be smothered so that that mouth could continue to be used to testify about Christ to the Romans both in Judea and in Rome. Seeing "that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees" (Acts 23:6), Paul decided to pit them against each other so that a "dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees" (Acts 23:7) and "the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God."(Acts 23:9)

To what "spirit or an angel" (Acts 23:9) speaking to Paul were the Pharisees referring?
They were recounting in their own words Paul's testimony about meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus: "Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’" (Acts 22:6-10)

Shouldn't Paul first have given his personal testimony to the council?
The Pharisees' words above, as well as their intended audience indicate that they already had heard Paul's testimony the previous day or at least heard about it. The remainder of Paul's stay in Judea would provide them plenty of time to go and ask him questions about his testimony if they wanted.

ACTS 23:10-11  10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks. 11 But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome."

Why did the Roman commander order his "soldiers to go down" and take Paul by force?
For a Roman commander to "fear..." (Acts 23:10) that Paul might be "pulled to pieces" (Acts 23:10), let alone be able to order "the Pharisees and the Sadducees" (Acts 23:7) to calm down, the "dissension" (Acts 23:10) between them must have been indeed "great" (Acts 23:10).

Why wasn't Paul "of good cheer" (Acts 23:10)?
Perhaps he was heartbroken over the souls of the spiritually blind former mentors and classmates of his. Perhaps he wondered if there really hadn't been any way for him to give his testimony to them once again. It also must have been right around the Pentecost and he longed to be with fellow Christians, both local and those who had traveled to Jerusalem with him, instead of on his own in a Roman barrack.

Who did he get to spend time with instead?
"The Lord" (Acts 23:11) Himself, who "stood by him" (Acts 23:11), encouraged him, reminded him that he already had "testified for [Him] in Jerusalem" (Acts 23:11) and made him look forward to being His "witness at Rome" (Acts 23:12) as well.

How is that different from what the Lord does today when we are down and/or by ourselves?
It isn't different at all, "For I am the LORD, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6). Our God isn't distant and impersonal. As powerful as He is, Jesus cares for and loves each of us intimately and personally. Any Christian who is feeling down or alone has only to kneel and cry out to Him for His quiet but powerful company, for "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) and always stands by His children.

ACTS 23:12-15  12 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. 14 They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, “We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near."

Who were in on "this conspiracy" (Acts 23:13)?
"More than forty" (Acts 23:13) would-be-assassins, plus "the chief priests and elders" (Acts 23:14). Given that the Pharisees had defended Paul - "And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God." (Acts 23:0) - against the Sadducees, among whom the high priests were chosen, the participants in this conspiracy are most likely to have been Sadducees.

For how long did the would-be-assassins expect to "eat nothing" (Acts 23:14)?
Since they expected to kill Paul "tomorrow" (Acts 23:15), about 24 hours.

ACTS 23:16-22  16 So when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, “Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him.” 18 So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, “Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you.” 19 Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, “What is it that you have to tell me?” 20 And he said, “The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. 21 But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.” 22 So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him, “Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me."

Did the "high priests and elders" agree to the conspiracy to murder Paul?
Apparently so: "The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him." (Acts 23-20-21)

What was "Paul's sister's son" (Acts 23:16) doing in Jerusalem?
While Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia in Turkey, he had been raised in Jerusalem -
"My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem" (Acts 26:4) - "at the feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3). Paul's nephew may have been following in his footsteps.

How was Paul's nephew able to enter the Roman barracks to speak to Paul?
In those days, it was common for prisoners to be fed by their family and friends. In fact, prisoners for whom nobody brought food from the outside often starved.

How old was Paul's nephew?
Since
"the commander took him by the hand" (Acts 23:19), he was probably quite young.

Why did the commander say, "Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me" (Acts 23:22)?
If the conspirators were to find out that he had been warned about their surprise ambush, they would change their plans to retain the element of surprise.

ACTS 23:23-24  23 And he called for two centurions, saying, "Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; 24 and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor."

Where was Paul being sent?
"To Felix the governor" (Acts 23:24) of Judea at the provincial headquarters of the Roman legion, stationed at the port city of Caesarea.

What time were they leaving Jerusalem?
"At the third hour of the night" (Acts 23:23) or 9PM, long after sunset when the streets of Jerusalem would clear so that Paul and his escort could leave the city with as little disturbance as possible.

What was Paul's escort?
"Two hundred soldiers" (Acts 23:23), presumably carrying swords, "seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen" (Acts 23:23), as well as "two centurions" (Acts 23:23). Riding on "mounts" (Acts 23:24) - i.e., horseback -  Paul's departure from Jerusalem was going to be protected by 472 Roman soldiers.

ACTS 23:25-30  25 He wrote a letter in the following manner: 26 Claudius Lysias, To the most excellent governor Felix: Greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28 And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council. 29 I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains. 30 And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him. Farewell.

Who is "Claudius Lysias" (Acts 23:26)?
The Roman commander who is sending Paul to "governor Felix" (Acts 23:26).

What was the Claudius Lysias going to tell the Jews?
"To state before [Felix] the charges against" (Acts 23:30) Paul.

What did Claudius Lysias 'forget' to mention?
That "he had bound" (Acts 22:29) Paul, a Roman citizen, illegally.

What did Claudius Lysias add instead?
That he had known Paul "was a Roman" (Acts 23:27) before rescuing him.

ACTS 23:31-35  31 Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks. 33 When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 And when the governor had read it, he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, “I will hear you when your accusers also have come.” And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium.

Where was "Antipatris" (Acts 23:31)?
Antipatris was a city 40 miles northwest of Jerusalem and 2 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea.

Why did the "soldiers" (Acts 23:31) turn around at Antipatris?
The real danger for ambush had been along the meandering road over the rough terrain from Jerusalem down to the coastal plains. A Roman road connected Antipatris to Caesarea, which was a straight shot along the coast. Not only was the possibility of an ambush greatly diminished, infantry would be a drag on the "horsemen" (Acts 23:32), who could get there much faster on their own.

Why did "the governor" (Acts 23:34) ask Paul "what province he was from" (Acts 23:34)?
Some but not all Roman provinces required their accused natives to be repatriated for local trials. Cilicia wasn't one of the provinces with a repatriation requirement, so Felix agreed to hold trial when Paul's "accusers also have come" (Acts 23:35).

What was "Herod's Praetorium" (Acts 23:35)?
Herod 'the Great' built several great palaces, and the one at Caesarea had been turned into a "Praetorium", or the official residence of the Roman governor.

Speaking of 'great', whatever happened to those who swore the "great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul" (Acts 23:14)?
Since Paul stayed alive for a few more years, they either starved to death or began to eat again.

For what sort of things should Christians swear oaths?
None, according to Jesus:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." (Matthew 5:33-37)

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