Paul's Defence Before the Sanhedrim.
SUMMARY.--The Insult of the High Priest.
His Appeal to the Pharisees.
The Vision of the Lord in the Night.
The Plot of the Sicarii.
Revealed to the Chief Captain by Paul's Nephew.
Paul Sent Under an Escort of Soldiers to Cæsarea.
The Letter of Claudius Lysias to Felix.
1. Paul, earnestly beholding. Attentively studying his audience,
and no doubt seeking whether there were old acquaintances among the
members of the Sanhedrim. He probably knew at least a part of the body.
Many years before he had been its trusted agent, to execute its orders
against Christians; now he is on trial before it for being one of that
body which it formerly employed him to destroy. They regarded him a
renegade, much as our countrymen regard Benedict Arnold, and their hate
was so vindictive that they were utterly unable to listen calmly to his
defence. Hence, as soon as he began by declaring that he had acted
in all good conscience until this day,
the high priest ordered that he be smitten in the mouth.
2-5. To smite him on the mouth. The high priest flamed up in an
instant at the statement of Paul that he had acted in good conscience.
"How could such a renegade from Judaism be conscientious?" It is common
in the despotic East to order the mouths that are supposed to have
spoken falsely to be smitten. Ananias was high priest at this time, but
was removed on a charge brought by King Agrippa
in A. D. 59. He was at last assassinated.
God shall smite thee, thou whited wall. These words, spoken by
the prisoner, indignant at the mockery of justice, were rather a
prediction than an imprecation. I have just stated that this violent
man came to an untimely death. The insult to Paul reminds us of a
similar one to his Master before the same body
By whited wall Paul means
a hypocrite. See note on
I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest. It was
contrary to the law of Moses
to revile one in high authority. Paul's reply to the charge that he had
violated the law has been variously explained. Howson gives what
appears to me the most probable view: "I did not take thought, at the
moment, in my indignation over the command to smite a defenceless
prisoner on trial, that he was the high priest. I am well aware that it
is said, 'Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.'" His
words were an apology for his hasty speech. I wist not is used
in the sense of "I did not bear in mind."
6-10. Perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other
Pharisees. When the Savior was condemned, the Sanhedrim was
composed of both parties, and now, nearly thirty years later, we find
it the same. The chief priests, as a rule, were Sadducees, while the
scribes were mainly of the Pharisees. It was the doctrine of the
resurrection that especially inflamed the Sadducees against the gospel
This was the ground of battle between the two sects, and Paul, himself
once a Pharisee, now preaching a gospel of which the great fact is the
resurrection, not only avails himself of the opportunity to proclaim
the fundamental truth of Christianity, but in so doing divides his
enemies. Alford, says, concerning his declaration,
I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection
of the dead I am called in question, that, "All prospect for a fair
trial was hopeless. Paul well knew from experience that personal odium
would bias his judges, and violence prevail over justice. He therefore
uses in the cause of truth the maxim so often perverted to the use of
falsehood, Divide and conquer."
There arose a dissension. The Pharisees were at once reminded
that Paul was with them in their great ground of contention with the
Sadducees. His appeal to them makes them at once his champions against
the rival sect.
8. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection. See notes on
for the doctrinal view of the Sadducees. The statement here is fully
confirmed by Josephus. See Wars of the Jews, 2:8, 14.
The scribes . . . arose. These were mostly Pharisees,
and were a learned class.
We find no evil in this man. There was more to them in common
with him than with the materialistic Sadducees.
If a spirit or an angel. See the Revision. They throw this out
as a defiance to the Sadducees who denied both angel and spirit. The
clause "Let us not fight, etc.," is not found in the best MSS.
There arose a great dissension. One party took Paul's side, the
opposed; one sought to lay hands on him, the other to defend him. The
chief captain interposed and removed Paul to the castle.
11. The night following. Paul's conditions seemed most forlorn.
He was even suspected by the church in Jerusalem. He was a prisoner to
the Romans. His own nation was thirsting for his life. He had twice,
within two days, narrowly escaped death. He needed comfort, and hence
the Lord stood by him, cheered him, and gave him encouragement
concerning his future work. It not doubt was like a ray of light, as he
passed a sleepless night in his prison cell, to learn that the dear
Lord still had work for him.
12-24. Certain of the Jews banded together. Perhaps these Jews
were of the bitter enemies from Asia who had laid hands on him in the
temple. They may have belonged to a wild fanatical association of
Jewish assassins, who, a few years later, played a prominent part,
called Sicarii. The Talmud says that those who took such a vow
were released from it, if it was impossible to carry it out. Their
purpose was to induce
the chief priests, who were Sadducees, to have Paul appear
before the Sanhedrim the next day, and then they would murder him.
Paul's sister's son heard. This is the only mention in Acts of
any of Paul's relations. It is possible that this nephew was studying
in Jerusalem, as Paul had done many years before, and heard of the plot
from those who did not know that he was in any way related to Paul.
Whether he was a Christian or not, he took pains to inform his uncle.
There was no difficulty of access, for Paul was a Roman, and would be
treated with courtesy. Paul, at once, sent him to
the chief captain with his information.
19. Took him by the hand. To show how carefully he was listening
to the story.
Called unto him two centurions. These were told to prepare
four hundred and seventy soldiers for an escort, a large force, but the
country was in a disturbed condition, and all the occurrences connected
with Paul confused and alarmed the commander.
Bring him safe unto Felix. Of this man, then governor, we will
hear more. He was originally a slave, but had risen by base arts to a
high position. His brother Pallas was the emperor's favorite, and
secured the important post of governor for Felix in A. D. 52. In
A. D. 60 he was removed.
25-30. He wrote a letter. Roman law required that when a
prisoner was sent by a lower official to a higher for trial, a letter
should be sent stating the charges. That of Lysias states his
understanding of the case.
I rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman. Like
many modern officials, he prevaricates. He found out he was a Roman
after he rescued him.
I sent him straightway to thee. "Though I held him to be
innocent, hearing of the plot against his life, I thought it best to
send him to thee." Had he released Paul in Jerusalem, the conspirators
would have murdered him.
31-35. Brought him by night to Antipatris. They departed by
night so that the Jews would know nothing of Paul's departure until the
next day. Antipatris was about thirty-eight miles from
Jerusalem. The march was not probably made by night, but begun at night
and was completed the next day.
On the morrow. The morrow after they reached Antipatris, all
returned but the horsemen. Cæsarea was now only twenty-six miles
distant, and the danger was over.
He asked of what province he was. Felix was governor of Judea
under the proconsul of Syria. Had he found the prisoner to be of some
other province under the proconsul, he would probably have turned him
over to its governor (compare
Luke 23:6, 7),
but when he found he was of Cilicia, a distant part of the empire, he
Kept in Herod's judgment hall. The palace built by Herod the
Great in Cæsarea for his own residence, but now occupied by