Summary: How the Lord appears to encourage the Apostle Paul.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 38
Acts 23: 1-35
by Dr. John R. Hamby
Let me set the stage the year is 57 A.D. and Paul is at the end of his third missionary journey. He has gone through the churches collecting relief funds for the church at Jerusalem which he intended to deliver himself. When he arrived he met with James and the elders of the church at Jerusalem and then went on to the temple in order to demonstrate that he was not against the Jews and the law.
Paul had been worshipping in the temple, when he was falsely accused of bringing a Gentile inside the temple (21:27-29). A riot followed (21:30-31) on which the angry crowd intent to kill him and they would have killed him on the spot had he not been rescued by the Roman soldiers who were garrisoned in the tower of Antonio which overlooked the temple grounds.
The captain of the Roman guard broke up the riot, and bound Paul with chains (21: 34). Paul asked the captain for an opportunity to speak up (21: 39-40). Paul then gave his personal testimony (22:1-15). When we left off last time in Acts 22, the Apostle Paul had testified before those gathered in the Temple, they again became enraged and attempted to kill him. The Romans now intended to interrogate Paul (interrogation was by scourging) until that is they discovered that he was a Roman citizen (22:24-29).
Finally the officer in charge decides to have Paul’s case decided by the Sanhedrin, but unfortunately every time Paul comes into the presence of these Jews, it like putting steel to a grinder sparks begin to fly. It will be no different this time for we read in verse one, “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." (2) And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.”
Paul made a bold statement when he said he had lived with a clean conscience, a comment which enraged the high priest. He ordered that Paul be slapped in the mouth for his impudence and impertinence. That was an unusually degrading form of insult to an Israelite. And in fact we Gentiles don’t like it very much either. To strike an unconvicted person was illegal, as both Paul and the high priest knew.
Apparently, however, Ananias, the high priest is not acting out of character. This man had already attained a reputation as a violent and untrustworthy man. A man who was easily bribed and who often confiscated for himself the tithes given to support the Temple.
While Ananias was acting as we would expect a lost man to act, Paul seemingly loses his temper and apparently acts out of character, by rebuking the chief priest. Verse three says,
“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."’
Paul’s anger flashes out as he replies. His is a very caustic remark in which he says, “God will strike you, you barefaced hypocrite.”
We know this act was out of character because once Paul was informed that the man to whom he has spoken was the high priest he immediately apologizes. Citing Exodus 22:28, Paul acknowledges that it is wrong to speak evil of the ruler of the people. Paul is acknowledging his submission to the very law that he was so wrongly accused of flaunting and disregarding.
I would like to point out something that certainly has application for today, Paul is apologizing to the position of high priest not to Ananias, the man. The position is to be respected even when the man holding it cannot!
The question for us this evening is, “How could Paul speak this way to the high priest?” Paul acknowledged that he was wrong in doing so, but claimed that he did it out of ignorance saying, “I did not know that he was the high priest.”
We cannot know conclusively why Paul did not recognize the high priest. But there are several possible reasons, (1) Paul had not been in Jerusalem in some time, why would he know what the high priest looked like. There were no newspaper or magazine to splash his photo around. (2) Because this seems to be a hastily called meeting, it may have been that the high priest was not dressed in his high priestly garments. (3) It is alleged my some that Paul has remarkable poor eyesight and thus did not know who he was talking too. (4) It may well be that Paul knew who Ananias was, and thus his reputation, but did not know that he was now the high priest.