Acts Chapter Twenty-Three

Read Acts 23:1-10

v.1And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”


            In the last verse of chapter 22 we found that the chief captain of the band of Roman soldiers charged with keeping peace in the city of Jerusalem had summoned “THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND ALL THEIR COUNCIL TO APPEAR”.  He had been required to rescue Paul from a mob in the temple and he wanted to know why they were trying to kill him.  Paul is a Roman citizen and privileged to have his protection unless guilty of some crime.

            Paul faces the Sanhedrin Council for the first time since he was a member of it some 20-25 years before.  He declares that he has lived his life before God in all good conscience; which simply means that he exercised that “process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter” (Vines).  In writing to Timothy he expresses a similar thought this way:


II Timothy 1:33I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;”


v.2  And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.”


            The high priest at this time is a man named Ananias, appointed by Herod in A.D. 48.  History tells us that he was violent, cruel and eventually was assassinated.  He commands that Paul be struck in the mouth, much the same as someone might do a child who has said something that should not have been said.


v.3Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?


            Paul’s reaction to being smitten is sharp.  All that he did was declare that he had lived his life in good conscience.  No judgment has been given, no guilt has been found, there has been no opportunity to say more than one sentence so to order Paul to be struck is contrary to Mosaic Law.


Leviticus 19:35Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.”

Deuteronomy 25:1  If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.”


            Since there has been no judgment in Paul’s case yet there is no basis for any punishment to be given.


v.4  And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?”


            Paul is rebuked for speaking as he did about the high priest.  This high priest was evil, violent and cruel but he was still God’ representative under the Law.  The Israelites were forbidden to speak against God’s representative under the penalty of death:


Deuteronomy 17:12And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.”


            We should remember that even though there is usually no earthly penalty today for not doing so; we should not dishonor those who are in authority over us today either.  The man occupying such an office may be a rascal but give the office he holds the respect it deserves.


v.5Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”


            Paul understands and accepts this rebuke.  He did not know that the command came from the man appointed to be God’s high priest.  Paul has been gone from Jerusalem for a long time and he may not have known which of these men that he was facing was the high priest.  He knows and quotes the Law:


Exodus 22:28Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.”


            God’s attitude toward this kind of activity is still the same today.  The Holy Spirit through Peter tells us:


2 Peter 2:9-109The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: 10But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”


v.6But when Paul perceived that the 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: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.”


            Paul already understands that he is not going to get a fair hearing before this group of men.  He also knows that this council is deeply divided over a number of things but especially between the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees so he uses that division to create a diversion.  He is a Pharisee, he writes to the church at Philippi that he was:


Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;” Philippians 3:5


Paul also did not know what charges might be brought against him so he creates one that was true and that would generate even further division within the Sanhedrin.  He preached the resurrection of the dead, especially the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Sadducees did not believe in angels, spirits or resurrection.  This immediately starts a dispute among the council.


v.7-8And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. 8For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.”


            The Pharisees and Sadducees were not only at odds over religious doctrine but there were also major political and social differences as well.  The Sadducees were of the Jewish aristocracy; their prominence in Jewish politics went back to before the captivity in Babylon.  The Pharisees came into social prominence and power during the Persian and Greek rule of Judea.  The political division and controversy was probably stronger than we see in our own national capital today between the Democrats and Republicans.


v.9And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”


            The clamor and uproar just grows and grows.  The Pharisees have now decided that they are going to support Paul.  Some of them were probably men who knew Paul, studied with Paul in the school of Gamaliel.  If he was still living, this council may have even included Gamaliel himself.  His advice given at the trial of Peter and John for their teaching in Jerusalem has not been forgotten:


Acts 5:39But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”


A few moments before these men were all ready to do away with Paul, now he has generated a situation where a major portion of them are willing to set him free.


v.10And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.”


            We now have within the Sanhedrin, this august group of Jewish rulers itself, a mob mentality as strong as had been generated in the streets the day before.  They are literally in battle over Paul, the Sadducees to kill him the Pharisees now to rescue, protect and set him free.  The tumult has grown to the extent that the chief captain is afraid that “PAUL SHOULD HAVE BEEN PULLED IN PIECES”.  Paul’s still a Roman citizen under his protection so he does the only thing that he can do in this situation.  He sends his soldiers to the council floor to rescue Paul and bring him to the fortress or castle where the Roman band is billeted and headquartered.


Read Acts 23:11-25


v.11And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”


            Because no resolution or conclusion could be brought of the charges made against Paul, he is now a Roman prisoner.  We don’t know where the Jerusalem elders or Christians are at this time; this writing would indicate that they have probably forsaken Paul or at least they are not obviously supporting him in any way.  Paul is discouraged, something rare for him, and Jesus appears to reassure him that God’s providence is still working and that God still has a mission for him to complete.


v.12-13And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.”


            The street mob didn’t work, the appearance before the council didn’t generate any harm to Paul so a band of 40 of his enemies take an oath or a vow not to eat or drink until they have killed him.  These could have been some of the same men who followed him from city to city stirring up trouble in our earlier studies in Acts, we don’t know.  This kind of oath or vow was not uncommon among ancient Israel; one example of Saul going up against the Philistines:


I Samuel 14:24And the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted any food.”


The scripture says they banded together, the original Greek literally means that they “made a conspiracy” or agreement among themselves.  The scripture also tells us that they placed themselves under a curse or anathema so something terrible would befall them if they failed.  We’re not told what his curse was or anything else about it except we can understand that they believed that it would come true.


v.14And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.”


            They even come to the chief priests and elders and tell them what they are planning.  Apparently most of the men were Sadducees, not the Pharisees who tried to defend Paul in the uproar that occurred in the council.  They are much like Paul was during his persecution of the church; they thought the were doing a service to God, doing God’s will.  But then Jesus prophesied that this would occur:


John 16:22They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”


v.15Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would inquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.”


            The plotters have a plan.  The Sanhedrin is to make a formal request of the Roman chief captain to return Paul to the council so that an investigation and formal judgment could be conducted.  They thought perhaps that he would not be heavily guarded and with their numbers they would be able to get near enough to him to kill him.  They are simply assassins, guilty of trying to accomplish the very same thing that the chief captain though Paul might be guilty of doing in Acts 21:38.


v.16And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.”


            That Paul had kinsmen, or relatives in Jerusalem should be no surprise.  He was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, from a family that was prominent and wealthy enough to send their son to Jerusalem to study.  That he would have a nephew there in later years is logical.  Paul has kinsmen with him in Rome that are mention in Romans 16:7, 11.  This nephew has access to Paul and whether a Christian or not we do not know but goes to Paul and tells him what he has overheard.


v.17-18Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him. 18So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.”


            As a Roman citizen, Paul commands a certain amount of respect and deference from the Roman soldiers and their commanders.  Consequently when his nephew comes with the news of the plot he makes sure that the information gets to the person who needs to know it, the chief captain.  The scripture here refers to this person as a young man, a man fully mature but still young and is the same language used to describe Paul at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:48 and Eutychus in Acts 20:9. 


v.19Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?”


            The chief captain greeted Paul’s nephew readily; much as we would today, took him aside privately and asked him what he had to tell.


v.20-21And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would inquire somewhat of him more perfectly. 21But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.”


            The young man lays the plot out for the chief captain.  A request is going to be made for Paul to be brought back before the council for further examination.  When that is done these 40 men have prepared an ambush to kill him.  He now pleads with the chief captain not to honor their request and that these fanatics have taken an oath not to eat or drink until Paul is dead.  These men are determined and the situation is not going to go away or even improve as long as Paul is in Jerusalem.


v.22So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast showed these things to me.”


            The chief captain sends the young man on his way, warning him not to let anyone know what he has reported.  Obviously, that advice is for his own protection.


v.23-25And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night; 24And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.  AND HE WROTE A LETTER AFTER THIS MANNER.”


            The chief captain makes the preparations of a prudent military man.  He takes two companies of heavy infantry, two companies of light infantry (spearmen) and a company of cavalry, 470 men in total and sends them to escort Paul to Caesarea.  He provides beasts of burden for Paul and probably for those who would accompany him so that they wouldn’t slow down his soldiers.  They leave Jerusalem under the cover of darkness, actually at the third hour of the night (9 p.m.) and will a long way down the road before the city wakes up the next morning.  It’s about 70 miles from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

            Paul is sent to Felix, the current governor or procurator of Judea.  History tells us that this Felix is a brother of a man named Pallas who was a favorite of Claudius Caesar.  Both had been slaves but had gained their freedom.  He was appointed as governor of Judea by Claudius in A.D. 52 and had married, probably for political convenience, Drusilla, the sister of Herod Agrippa I.  He sends a letter along with Paul explaining the reason for him being sent to Felix.


Read Acts 23:26-35


v.26-27Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting. 27This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.”


            First of all we now know the name of our chief captain, Claudius Lysias.  He addresses Felix in the respectful language that would be expected from a subordinate to a superior.  However, he puts a little bit of a favorable spin on the circumstances surrounding of sending Paul to Felix.  He rescued him from the Jews, twice, but he didn’t know that Paul was a Roman the first time.  He didn’t say anything about binding Paul either, as that would have been an admission his violation of Roman law.


v.28-29And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council: 29Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.”


            Claudius Lysias continues that he brought Paul before the Jewish council to try to determine what he had done to deserve the punishment that the Jews were demanding.  Whatever was involved seemed to be a problem with Jewish religious law and nothing that should be the concern of the Roman government and that Paul had not violated Roman law.


v.30And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.”


            Since Paul has not violated Roman law, the chief captain has to have some reason for going to the expense of sending Paul to Felix.  At this point he simply tells Felix that he is going to tell the Jews to make their accusations to Felix, he’s the governor and responsible for judging these people.  He’s sending Paul for Felix to investigate their charges and judge Paul further.


v.3131Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.”


            The infantrymen accompany Paul and the cavalry company down the mountain as far as the town of Antipatris, and then they return to Jerusalem.  After all, Claudius Lysias has sent about half his troops with Paul and needs most of them back fairly quickly.  This town was about 10 miles north of Joppa and probably at the road junction where the road down from Jerusalem met the north-south road on the coastal plain between Joppa and Caesarea.


v.32-33 “On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle: 33Who, when they came to Caesarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.”


            On the morrow, probably the next day after they arrived since they had marched all night, they left Paul with the horsemen and returned to Jerusalem.  The cavalry company then continues on to Caesarea and delivers the letter and Paul to Felix.


v.34-35And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia; I WILL HEAR THEE, SAID HE, WHEN THINE ACCUSERS ARE ALSO COME. AND HE COMMANDED HIM TO BE KEPT IN HEROD’S JUDGEMENT HALL.”


            Felix reads the letter and then asks Paul what province he’s from.  Political infighting among the various governors under Rome was common.  In many cases one governor wasn’t at liberty to judge the citizens of another.  In addition, Felix probably wanted to make sure that Paul really was his problem to handle.  So he held Paul until his accusers could come from Jerusalem.