Paul Before the Sanhedrin

Acts 22:30 – 23:11

A. Paul’s apology 22:30-23:6

1. a good conscience – see Gal_1:14; 1Ti_1:13; Php_3:6

Paul demonstrated a zeal for God throughout his life that was commensurate with his knowledge and understanding. He operated on the basis of a well-defined sense of duty and not out of malice.

Ananias’ pre-conceived verdict shows in his action – consistent with his reputation for cruel and violent treatment of any he didn’t like

But as for the high priest, Ananias …was a great hoarder up of money: …he also had servants who were very wicked, who joined themselves to the boldest sort of the people, and went to the thrashing-floors, and took away the tithes that belonged to the priests by violence, and did not refrain from beating such as would not give these tithes to them. … [some of the] priests, that of old were wont to be supported with those tithes, died for want of food. Josephus, Antiquities, 20.9.2

Was Paul’s response a visceral reaction to an obvious injustice without regard for who issued the order? Did he really not know who the high priest was, that it was he who had done it? The most reasonable explanation is that the council was called together in such hast that the high priest was not wearing his official garments and Paul did not recognize him.

Some even question whether the Roman commander had the authority to call an official session of the Sanhedrin. If he did not, that would lend even more plausibility to the idea that Paul truly did not know which of the men assembled was the high priest.

In any event, Paul’s retort could have been legitimately directed at any member of the Sanhedrin since they all were duty-bound to act in a lawful way but had failed to do so.

2. a law-keeper

After being made aware of his infraction, Paul immediately acknowledged his intention to be a law-keeper even if his accusers were not. Perhaps he intended this statement also to be a rebuke against those who were determined to cause him harm – I intend to follow the commands God has given to respect those in authority even if those in authority disobey God’s command to use their power justly.

B. Conflict in the court 23:7-23:9

  1. It’s about the resurrection!

    Paul’s declaration that the issue at hand was the doctrine of the resurrection was like a spark to a powder keg, one of the most divisive issues between Pharisee and Sadducee.

the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.1.4

the Pharisees …say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, — but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment. But the Sadducees …take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.8.14

The result was a brawl in which neither side was willing to grant anything to the other. In fact, Paul became the pawn of the Pharisees, enabling them to attempt to gain an advantage over their opponents, the Sadducees.

Suddenly the issue was not about whether or not to advance the cause of justice but which side of this internecine warfare (a battle between supposed brothers) would prevail. Gaining turf in the Court became the goal between those who were determined to use Paul and his testimony to their own gain and those who wished him destroyed. How many times does that happen in and out of the church – a situation is spun into a turf battle, a means to protect a pet project or way of doing things.

C. Strategy analysis 23:6

  1. Why did Paul identify the charge against him as centering on the resurrection? Several reasons come to mind:

  1. doctrinal differences

    the most obvious, the doctrinal differences between Saducees and Pharisees and the probability that conflict among the Sanhedrin would bode well for Paul’s ultimate safety. They could be easily discredited as religious spokesmen by highlighting their deep differences and great animosity.

  2. inability to conduct an impartial trial

    What it would show to Paul’s Roman escort – questionable credibility of the Sanhedrin from a legal standpoint, their inability to conduct an impartial trial, the “pettiness” of the issue.

  3. the resurrection and atonement make Christianity uniqueThe doctrine of the resurrection coupled with substitutionary atonement are what make Christianity unique among religions. In fact, one without the other provides only half a solution to the results of Adam’s fall – either God conquered sin and Satan or death but not both; he could satisfy the penalty for sin but not remove its curse.

  4. The doctrine of the resurrection is what gave Paul hope

    It was the source of hope, courage, motivation to persevere in preaching the Gospel. See 1 Cor. 15!

we see what horrible and filthy disorder there was at that day in the Church. …they had at that day no regard of discipline, but there remained among them confused barbarism. And no marvel, for they had estranged themselves from God; they had most reproachfully rejected Christ. Calvin, Acts 23:2

I would rather take occasion from hence to remark, what an awful day must it have been in the Jewish Church when the Seventy forming the High Court for Judgment in all things sacred was made up of such a motley body of men. …Remark Jehovah’s promise, of putting his Spirit upon them; and then, look at this degenerate Council, with such a character as Ananias at the head of them! Oh! what an awful change! Num_11:16-17; Hawker, Poor Man’s Commentary, Acts 23:6ff

D. God’s gracious providence 23:10-23:11

  1. A Roman commander with some regard for due process

    He was not inclined to allow the mob to lynch Paul even though Claudius thought he probably was guilty of something.

    Once he found out Paul was a Roman citizen Claudius treated him “appropriately”.

    When it appeared Paul’s life was in danger again, Claudius rescued him from the unruly Sanhedrin.

  2. A visitation by Christ Himself

a. “Have courage” θαρσέω, (tharseō)

It has the basic sense of “to dare,” “to be bold,” and thence “to be of good courage,” “to be cheerful,” “to be confident,” TDNT Each time this form of the word is used elsewhere in the NT (7 times) it falls from the mouth of Jesus Himself.

b. Paul is in the hands of the One who has had victory over all his enemies

Thus, he has nothing to fear.

c. Christ validates Paul’s ministry in in Jerusalem.

This provides even more encouragement to Paul

d. Paul will make it to Rome.

Christ further indicates that Paul’s labors for the kingdom are not over – he will in fact make it to Rome. It is part of God’s sovereign plan – it is necessary – that Paul proclaim the Gospel in Rome also. Additional indication of the graciousness of Christ – he was pleased to grant the desire of Paul expressed twice in his letter to the saints in Rome ( Rom_1:10; Rom_15:23-24 ). Was this because Paul delighted himself in the Lord ( Psa_37:4 )? It certainly gave a more profound meaning to Paul’s concept of God as the one who provides comfort in suffering ( 2Co_1:3-7 ).

e. God providentially orders the affairs of men and nations.

By doing so he gives his servants opportunities for proclamation of the Gospel.

But his wish was accomplished, as our prayers and purposes so often are, in a manner very strange to him. A popular riot in Jerusalem, a half-friendly arrest by the contemptuous impartiality of a Roman officer, a final rejection by the Sanhedrim, a prison in Caesarea, an appeal to Caesar, a weary voyage, a shipwreck: this was the chain of circumstances which fulfilled his desire, and brought him to the imperial city. Alexander MacLaren

E. What’s in it for us?

  1. The resurrection is worth dying for!

    Obviously a true doctrine of the resurrection, and not some form of reincarnation or pantheistic oneness. A true view of the resurrection and its “guarantee” in Christ is the source of true hope, something that “the world needs now” more than ever. Remember it is “the truth that will set us free” (Joh_8:32 ).

  2. The Gospel must be central in our defense ( ἀπολογία, apologia )Whatever the opportunities, whatever the starting points providence affords us, we must be prepared as best we can with the Spirit’s enabling to give a proper defense of what we believe. We must not worry beforehand, but trust that Christ will give the words to speak through his Spirit (

    Luk_21:14-15 ). Following Paul’s example, even though he started with personal experience or condition it never took him long to bring the focus to Gospel truths.

  3. Faithful witnessing begets further opportunities for service.

    Paul had proclaimed the Gospel faithfully in spite of extreme hardship and virulent opposition. His target audience ran the full gamut – royalty to slave, Jew and Gentile, learned and unlearned. Paul’s ongoing commission here renewed by Christ was to proclaim the Gospel in Rome in the same way that he had done so in Jerusalem.

  4. Opportunities require commitment.

When God providentially gives us opportunities to advance the Gospel we must have the courage to move forward in the strength he gives us. God will open the doors or bring “situations” to us; our duty is to follow through.

Surely there can be no sadder sign of decadence and no surer precursor of extinction than to fall beneath the demands of our day; to have doors opening at which we are too lazy or selfish to go in; to be so sound asleep that we never hear the man of Macedonia when he stands by us and cries, ‘Come over and help us!’ We are members of a Church that God has appointed to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. We are citizens of a nation whose influence is ubiquitous and felt in every land. By both characters, God summons us to tasks which will tax all our resources worthily to do. We inherit a work from our fathers which God has shown that He owns by giving us these golden opportunities. He summons us: ‘Lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes. Come out of Jerusalem; come into Rome.’ Shall we respond? God give us grace to fill the sphere in which He has set us, till He lifts us to the wider one, where the faithfulness of the steward is exchanged for the authority of the ruler, and the toil of the servant for the joy of the Lord! Alexander MacLaren 1826-1910, England


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