Paul in Jerusalem – 3. Paul Before the Sanhedrin and Transferred to Caesarea

My last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul concerned his being mobbed by a crowd at the temple because they thought he had brought Gentiles into the temple, his being rescued by Roman soldiers and, with the permission of the commander of the soldiers, his speaking to the crowd. He told them of his conversion and call, ending with, “Then the Lord [Jesus] said to me, ‘Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:21, ESV; all Biblical quotations are in the ESV). In this post I’ll describe the crowd’s reaction to Paul’s speech, his appearing before the Sanhedrin, a plot to kill Paul, and his being transferred to Caesarea, as they are recorded in Acts 22:22-23:35.

The Crowd’s Reaction to Paul’s Speech

On hearing Paul say, “Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles,” the crowd broke out into anger again, upset at his implying that God’s blessings were for the Gentiles as well as for Israel. They shouted, ”Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live,” and threw off their cloaks and flung dust in the air. Fearing for the safety of his prisoner, the tribune commanding the soldiers ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks in the Fortress of Antonia, which was connected to the northern end of the temple area.

In the barracks the tribune directed that Paul be flogged with a scourge, a whip of leather thongs studded with pieces of bone or metal and fastened to a wooden handle, and interrogated on why the Jews were angry with him. The soldiers strapped Paul’s wrists together and fastened the strap high on a pole so that he could be stretched out to be flogged. Realizing what was about to happen, Paul asked the centurion in charge of the operation, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” Its being against Roman law to flog a Roman citizen, the centurion immediately went to the tribune and warned him that Paul was a Roman citizen.

The tribune came to Paul and asked if he were a Roman citizen. When Paul told him that he was, the tribune said, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum,” suggesting that Paul looked too battered and undignified to been able to buy Roman citizenship. Paul calmly replied, “But I am a citizen by birth.” We don’t know how Paul’s father or an earlier ancestor had received Roman citizenship, but perhaps he been rewarded with it for giving valuable services to the Romans (the three ways of obtaining Roman citizenship were buying it for a large amount of money, being born into a family of Roman citizens, and being rewarded with it for rendering some special service to the Romans). Alarmed at his having been about to commit a serious illegality against a Roman citizen, the tribune had Paul’s straps unbound.

Although Paul had told those urging him not to go to Jerusalem, ”I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:3), when he was actually about to be flogged he appealed to his Roman citizenship. This indicates that although we should be ready to suffer for our faith, we can appeal to the law for our protection, especially when we are attacked in a way that breaks the law. It also suggests that we should speak up for others who are treated illegally or unfairly.

Paul Before the Sanhedrin

The next day, needing to know what the Jews were accusing Paul of so that he could decide what to do with him, the tribune ordered the chief priests and the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court, to assemble and brought Paul before them. Paul opened his defense by proclaiming, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”

When Paul said this, the high priest, Ananias, who was known for his use of violence (and his avarice), ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Indignantly Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall [a wall whitewashed to hide its crumbling condition]! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”

Those standing near Paul said to him, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul answered, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'” Paul’s words have been explained in many ways, including: that because of having visited Jerusalem only sporadically over the past twenty years he didn’t recognize the high priest; that because of his poor eyesight he couldn’t see that the one who had commanded that he be struck was the high priest; and that he was using sarcasm—a true high priest wouldn’t give such an order.

Then, aware that he wasn’t going to get a fair trial before Ananias and knowing that some of those before whom he was appearing were Sadducees and some were Pharisees, Paul declared, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” Sadducees rejected the resurrection of the dead (and of angels and spirits), but Pharisees accepted it although they hadn’t accepted the resurrection of Jesus. Immediately a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Some of the teachers of the Law who were Pharisees stood up and argued, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” The dispute became so violent that the tribune became frightened for Paul’s safety and ordered his soldiers to take him from them by force and return him to the barracks.

Although Paul had made his declaration in order to divide the Sanhedrin, his making it indicates the importance he placed on the resurrection, an importance which he’d expressed earlier in a letter to the Corinthians,”If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17). In my next post at Open Theism, I’ll consider the significance of the resurrection of Christ.

Undoubtedly Paul was despondent as he waited in his cell in the fortress for what would happen to him next. However the following night the Lord came to Paul and told him, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Thus, although he was still a prisoner and surrounded by enemies, Paul was assured that he was safe.

A Plot to Kill Paul

Having failed in their earlier attempt to kill Paul, more than forty fanatic Jews took an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed him. They asked the chief priests and elders to request the tribune to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin for further questioning, their planning to ambush and kill him on his way to it. Somehow the son of Paul’s sister learned about the plot. He visited Paul in the barracks and told him about the plot, and Paul arranged for him to tell the tribune what he had discovered.

Paul Transferred to Caesarea

Not wanting to risk having a Roman citizen assassinated while in his custody, the tribune sent Paul off by night, guarded by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen, to Caesarea, where the governor (Felix) had his headquarters in the palace which Herod the Great had built for himself. When the party reached Antipatris, a military post about halfway between Jerusalem and Caesarea, next morning, the foot soldiers returned, leaving the cavalry to escort Paul the rest of the way to Caesarea. They also brought a letter from the tribune explaining the circumstances to the governor.

On reading the letter, the governor asked Paul which province he came from and, on Paul’s telling him that he was from Cilicia, decided to keep Paul in his headquarters in Caesarea. He told Paul that he would give him a hearing when his accusers arrived, the tribune having said in his letter that he’d ordered Paul’s accusers to present their case against him to the governor.

In my next article in this series of articles on the life of Paul, I’ll describe and comment on his appearance before the governor.

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