BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
PAUL BEFORE THE HIGH COUNCIL
The Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council of Israel, was made up of a group of seventy men, some were Pharisees, and some were of the group known as the Sadducees. These two groups, though they formed one governing body, were vehemently opposed to each other in certain doctrine. For example, in addition to embracing the Law of Moses, the Pharisees also believed in following their own “Oral Law”. The Sadducees, on the other hand, only accepted the written Law of Moses, which is the Ten Commandments, and the “Penteteuch”, the first five books of the bible.
Like with the governing body here in the United States, the Congress (Democrats and Republicans), there were also other differences that kept these wayward Church leaders separated and opposed to each other. The Pharisees believed in “predestination”, while the Sadducees believed in the “free-will” of man. The Sadducees did not believe in spirits and angels, while the Pharisees did. However, the biggest disagreement between these two groups is that the Pharisees believed in the “Resurrection”, and the Sadducees said “No way!!
Here in Acts 23, as Paul begins his defense of himself before the religious hierarchy of Israel, he exhibits a certain boldness and defiance, in his demeanor and speech that was probably not going to bode well for him during these proceedings. In verse 1 we see Paul looking these powerful Church leaders right in the eyes, and began to address them improperly by referring to them as if they were only his peers.
Here, Paul opens up by referring to the council as his “Brothers”, instead of referring to them in the politically correct way in which they were accustomed to being addressed, which is “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel!” It would have the same negative impact of disrespect in today’s courts if we stood before the Judge and referred to him as “man” instead of “Your Honor”. That is why Ananias, the High Priest, ordered the person closest to Paul to “slap him in the mouth”.
In this passage, verses 1-11, a quick thinking Paul exposes to the court, his knowledge of Jewish law, because, after all, Paul himself was a former practicing Pharisee (one of their peers). First of all, Paul tells the High Priest that “GOD will slap him!” reminding his honor of the Jewish law that states, “He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite, strikes, as it were, the glory of GOD”. Paul then further rebukes the head of the council by calling him, a “whitewashed wall”, which was a well known reference that referred to a priest who had rendered himself “ceremonially unclean” by his touching of the tomb of the dead.
In those days, tombs that actually contained dead bodies were “whitewashed” in order to keep the priests from accidentally, or unwittingly touching them, and thereby, temporarily rendering themselves unfit for service in the temple. However, here Paul is actually telling Ananias, the High Priest that he is unfit to be a priest, because, by ignoring Jewish Law, he was not conducting himself in the way that a true leader of the Church of GOD should.
In verse 4, we see that those standing next to Paul questioned him about the way he had spoken to Ananias. Paul then offers up what can only be considered as a half-hearted apology when he says, in verse 5, that, “I’m sorry, brothers, I didn’t realize he was the High Priest. For the Scriptures say, “Do not speak evil of anyone who rules over you”.
In reality Paul knew exactly who Ananias was, and he also knew of his reputation of being a traitor, and a puppet for the Roman government. He was also well-known as being a glutton and a thief, who robbed from the poor among his people. Even the “Jewish Talmud”, a collection of books and commentaries on Scripture, compiled by Jewish Rabbis from around A.D. 250 to A.D. 500, ridicules Ananias for his greed, brutality, and deception.
Realizing that many members of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees, Paul stakes his claim on the fact that he himself was once a Pharisee, as well as all of his ancestors, and he was a believer in the Resurrection. He knew full well that such a comment by him would likely set the council up for a fight amongst themselves, and it certainly did. In fact Paul’s statement divided the council, and they began to engage in their favorite argument, the question of whether or not there would be a resurrection of the dead.
The Pharisees, of course, sided with Paul. In fact, at this point, they declared that they could see nothing wrong with Paul at all. The fighting grew more and more fierce and the men actually begin tugging at Paul from both sides. It became so intense that the Roman commander had to step in to keep Paul from being literally torn apart. The Roman soldiers secured Paul and rushed him back to the fortress for safe keeping. Over night the LORD came to Paul to encourage him, telling him that, “Just as you have told the people here in Jerusalem about ME, so you must do the same by preaching the Good News (The Gospel) in Rome”.
THE PLOT TO KILL PAUL
The following morning a group of over forty antichrist Jews got together and bound themselves together in pledge with a “cherem”. They vowed that they would not eat or drink until they had killed Paul. When invoking a cherem, one is asking GOD to curse him if he fails to complete his vow. Here we can see that this “religiously confused” group of men believed that, by killing Paul, a man who preached CHRIST, they were actually doing GOD a favor. They now regarded Paul’s murder as “justifiable under GOD”, and they honestly felt that Paul was a danger to the GODly morals and principals of Israel.
And so now the men, who were determined to exact justice in Israel, went to evoke the help of the Church (the leading priests), to assist them in completing their mission. They asked the high council to deceive the Roman commander by telling him to bring Paul back to them for further examination before the council, and while they are in route, they would siege Paul from them, and slay him.
Fortunately, Paul’s nephew heard of their little scheme and went to the fortress and informed him of their planned ambush. Paul then told the officers on duty what the Jews were plotting, and he asked them to take the young man to speak with their commander. The commander listened to everything the young man had to say, and then began to set his own plan into motion. He told Paul’s nephew not to tell anyone else about what he had heard.
PAUL SENT TO CAESAREA
Perhaps the strongest commitment that the Roman Empire had to its citizens was that, she would always vigorously protect them from the harm of outsiders. The commander took this threat against Paul very serious because Paul had already proven to him that he indeed was a Roman citizen. And so he was obligated by the law of the Roman Empire to protect Paul from hurt and harm at all costs. The commander quickly moved to get Paul to safety in Caesarea, which at that time was the capital of the province where Jerusalem was located.
The fact that the commander assigned such a large number of soldiers to this detail (200 men), and, by their plan to depart for Caesarea at nine o’clock at night, speaks volumes about how determined he was to protect his Roman prisoner, Paul, from danger. And perhaps more importantly to him, he needed to protect his own self, and, his job as commander, which would both be in jeopardy if he let anything happened to a prisoner in his custody.
When the detail left for Caesarea, the plan was for the foot soldiers to take Paul as far as Antipatris, which was the most dangerous part of the journey, and was about 35 miles from Jerusalem. The foot soldiers would then return to their fortress in Jerusalem, and the horse soldiers would take Paul the remaining 25 miles to Caesarea, where he would stand trial before the governor of Judea, Felix. When Paul arrived at Caesarea he met briefly with Felix, and then was placed in a holding cell in Herod’s headquarters until morning.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website