April 1, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Chapters 12-28)            

                    

Subtopic E: Paul in Jerusalem (21:15-23:22)                                                      

                          

                                                                           

         Lesson: IV.E.5: Paul Before the Sanhedrin (23:1-10)

 

 

Acts 23:1-10 (KJV)

 

1And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?

And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest?

Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.

For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Lysias, the Roman Tribune, untied Paul and escorted him to the council.  Surely the chiliarch{1] who was so terrified on the previous day over the terrible mistake he nearly committed, did not bind the apostle with chains overnight.

 

Paul is now a Prisoner, and we will follow his life as a prisoner.  From this point on we find Paul defending himself and his ministry.  He will appear before several rulers.  Because the Jews are plotting his death, he will be taken down to Caesarea.  He will spend about two years there in prison before he finally appeals and is sent to Rome.

 

You may recall that we mentioned that there has always been some controversy, some difference of opinion, as to whether or not Paul should have gone to Jerusalem.  Was he in the will of God when he did this?  I contend that he was entirely in the will of God.  I think that as we move on we will find again and again that Paul is in the will of God.  It is true that he has been arrested, and it is true that he is having a rough time.  But that does not mean that he is not in God’s will.

 

As we go along we can see the hand of God in the life of this man.  We have seen how the Roman captain arrested Paul and put him in prison and was going to beat him.  He called a halt to that when he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen.

 

Now the Sanhedrin, composed of the religious rulers, want to put him on trial.  (Many feel that Paul was himself originally a member of this body.)  Paul makes a futile attempt here to explain his position and his conduct to the Sanhedrin.  Then we see that the plot to murder Paul leads to his transfer to Caesarea for trial before Felix.  This is a remarkable section and very thrilling account of the experiences of Paul as a prisoner for Jesus Christ.

 

 

{1] Chiliarch means Royal Guard; those Roman soldiers assigned to keep the peace.

 

 

 

Commentary


1And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

 

The captain and his guard (22:30) brought Paul into the council chamber and stepped aside to watch the proceedings.  By this time the commander knew the accusations against Paul were Jewish (22:23-29), and the best way to unearth these was to have a hearing before the Sanhedrin. Knowing how the Jews in the temple had treated Paul, Claudius remained there on guard for fear of his prisoner being taken from him and killed.  A Roman soldier could not afford to lose a prisoner, for that might mean the forfeiting of his own life.  The loss of a prisoner against whom the charges were nebulous would be especially embarrassing for any Roman officer.

 

The first thing Paul did when confronted by the leaders of the Sanhedrin was to size up the council.  This group was composed of 70 (or 71) of the leading Jewish leaders, with the high priest presiding.  Unlike Peter and John (4:5-20), Paul was a recognized rabbi who “spoke the language” of his judges, and was utterly familiar with the machinery and proceedings of the Sanhedrin. Paul was seated in plain view of the whole assembly, and he gazed intently at each and every one of them, for he knew that the priests were going to attempt to make him take the full blame for the commotion the day before.  He refused to be saddled with the responsibility for what happened. He then announced his innocence, stating that he stood before them with a clear conscience{3].  Luke presents Paul as a sincere Jew loyal to his Jewish faith, before and after his conversion.  People of good conscience can be on opposite sides of the same issue; the same person can switch positions while preserving a good conscience.  “Good conscience” refers to submission to the will and sovereignty of God—“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” . . .  “holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5, 19; also see 1 Peter 3:21). One’s own conscience must be critically evaluated—“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:4).  In his mind, even the things he had done when he persecuted the church had been done in good conscience, because he had done them ignorantly—a classic example of the fact that conscience is a good goad{1] but a poor guide.  The Holy Spirit’s work in conviction is to bring the Word of God to bear upon the conscience, enlivening it and monitoring it so that it functions properly.  Apart from that, conscience can lead people to do strange things. 

 

Luke seems to begin with the meeting well underway, but we may assume that the inquiry was formerly opened and Paul accused of defiling the temple. The statement, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” should not be understood as referring to his entire life (there were some things about which Paul had a bad conscience; 22:20{2]), but only of the recent past and the matters with which he was charged. Paul may have had in mind his duty “to be a good citizen” or “to live as a good citizen” and may represent Paul’s claim, as a Christian, to belong to the commonwealth of God, whose laws he respected and observed—“remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world . . . “ (Ephesians 2:12, 19; Philippians 3:20).  The idea of citizenship is prominent in these chapters (21:39; 22:28).  Finally, “to this day” also points to the consistency and determination of Paul (2:29; 26:22) as he aims at fulfilling God’s call.  From this basis, Paul makes it clear that he is defending not merely himself but the God whom he preaches.

 

Such a remark as Paul made here was itself something of a provocation.  If Paul’s life as a Christian left him in complete innocence before God, then the Sanhedrin members who did not share his commitment to Christ were the guilty parties.  It is small wonder that the high priest Ananias immediately ordered him to be struck on the mouth for blasphemy (v. 2). His action was completely in character. Josephus depicted him as one of the very worst of the high priests, known for his pro-Roman sentiments, his extreme cruelty and his greed.

 

 

 

{1] Goad—a sharp pointed stick for urging on cattle, etc. Shamgar slew six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad." The goad is a formidable weapon. It is sometimes ten feet long, and has a sharp point. 

{2]And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I was standing by and approving, and I guarded the clothes of those who killed him” (Acts 22:20).

{3] Conscience is the inner “judge” or “witness” that approves when we do right and disapproves when we do wrong (Romans 2:15).  Conscience does not set the standard; it only applies it.  The conscience of a thief would bother him if he told the truth about his fellow crooks just as much as a Christian’s conscience would convict him if he told a lie about his friends.  Conscience does not make the standards; it only applies the standards of the person, whether they are good or bad, right or wrong.

 

 

And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.

 

Paul did not attempt to answer specific charges; instead he based his defense on his relationship with God.  He had a perfectly good conscience before God.  Paul was more concerned about how God would judge him than the Sanhedrin.  Though he was a Jew who followed Jesus, he had done nothing to dishonor God.  So Paul could claim that he had lived{1] in all good conscience.  The high priest, knowing something of Paul’s career as a Christian, was infuriated by his arrogance and mode of address—“Men and brethren” was not respectful enough to the chairmanand he gave orders for someone nearby to smack Paul across the mouth: this was no mere slap on the face, but a vicious blow.  Jesus in his trial had also been struck in the face (John 18:22) and had challenged the propriety of this blow.

 

This high priest was Ananias (not to be confused with Annas of 4:6), the son of Nedebaeus.  He had been made high priest by Herod Chalcis in a.d. 47 and had ruled for about a dozen years.  His Roman sympathies kept him in office longer than most but made him an object of hatred to the Jewish nationalists.  By all accounts Ananias was a violent and unscrupulous man, and a member of the sect of the Sadducees.  He was noted for his bribery and allowed his servants to plunder the tithes designated for the common priests.  He was summoned to Rome for his part in a Jewish ambush of a number of Samaritan Pilgrims.  He was one of the most mercenary men ever to bring dishonor on what had once been a noble office.  He was extremely wealthy and very influential.  His famous career of greed and craft continued so long as he was in office, and when he was replaced as high priest he continued to use “Mafia” methods to advance his interest.  When the war with Rome broke out in a.d. 66, he was assassinated by nationalists for his pro-Roman stand.  This was the man, a man without conscience, who ordered Paul to be slapped in the mouth for saying that he had lived in good conscience.  Ironically, at the beginning of Paul’s ministry another Ananias helped him receive his sight.

 

 

 

{1] The Greek word translated “lived” means “to live as a citizen.” It gives us the English word politics.  Paul affirmed that he was a loyal Jew who had lived as a good Jewish citizen and had not broken the Law.  His conscience did not condemn him even though the Jews had condemned him.

 

 

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?

 

It was both offensive and an offense for one Jew to order another to be struck in this way.  Paul’s temper flared.  He turned on the Jewish official with anger and scorn and rebuked him for taking advantage of his position to abuse a prisoner contrary to Jewish law, which protected the right of the accused; unjust treatment administered before the accused was proved guilty was forbidden.  His “knee-jerk” response was to declare that God would strike the high priest (literally, “God shall smite thee”), and then he called Ananias a “Whited wall,” a proverbial saying meaning that he was a hypocrite, like the prophets of Ezekiel 13:10, who covered a wall of loose stones with whitewash so that it appeared to be something other than it was (Isaiah 30:13; Matthew 23:27; Luke 11:44).

 

This should dispel the idea that Paul was some sort of pantywaist sissy.  The concept that humility makes a person a sort of Mr. Milquetoast is all wrong.  Actually, humility and meekness mean that you submit yourself to the will of God, regardless of the cost.  Paul is a meek man and a humble man, but he is not about to take injustice lying down.  Meek and humble certainly fit the apostle; however, there is a point beyond which the human spirit cannot be stretched.  Paul had a violent temper to begin with.  It was the temper of a passionate man.  It was controlled only by the most severe training and discipline.

 

The only other time the word whited occurs in the New Testament it is used by the Lord Jesus in His denunciation of the leaders of Israel to describe the scribes (i.e., the students of the law) and Pharisees (Matthew 23:27).  Sepulchers were traditionally whitened a month before Passover time so that people might avoid them and save themselves from ritual uncleanness caused by accidental contact with a place of death.  Paul’s use of the word was somewhat different.  He likened his judge to a shaky wall, one made to look sound by a liberal application of whitewash. Paul could see right through the man’s pretentious exterior to the rottenness within.  Did Paul imply a comparison of the high priest’s life to a tomb which was beautiful on the outside but rotten within?  More than likely the apostle meant that the high priest was a hypocrite and a sham.

 

When Paul said to Ananias,“God shall smite thee,” he was definitely speaking prophetically, because God did indeed smite this wicked man some eight years later.  When the Jews revolted against Rome in the year 66, Ananias had to flee for his life because of his known sympathies with Rome.  The Jewish guerrillas found him hiding in an aqueduct at Harrods’s palace, and they killed him.  It was a humiliating death for a despicable man.

 

 

And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest?

 

Paul had right on his side, but his angry response only aroused the indignation of the council.  Some of its members reminded him that it was improper (that is, against the law) to speak to God’s high priest in this way.  Whether or not Paul knew that Ananias was the high priest, he certainly would not have known him by sight.  Moreover, this was not a regular or formal meeting of the Sanhedrin, but one formed in haste at the command of the Tribune.  It is possible that Ananias, though doubtless richly dressed was not arrayed in his official robes.  The last thing Paul suspected was that a man who could act with such arbitrary malice could be God’s high priest.  The man’s bad testimony proclaimed him anything but that.

 

 

5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

 

After putting Ananias in his place, the apostle realized that he had gone too far with his sarcasm; therefore Paul replied that he did not realize that he was the high priest.  This has sometimes been taken to mean that Paul had literally failed to recognize Ananias, either through weakness of sight or because he did not know him by sight.  But more likely he had resorted to irony as much as to say “I did not recognize the high priest due to the behavior and speech of this man.  His conduct contradicts him being God’s representative” (which is what the phrase “God’s high priest” means).  But the moment of anger passed, and as soon as he was apprised of the facts, Paul apologized quoting from Exodus 22:28 [“You must not blaspheme God or curse a leader among your people.”]  as his reason for doing so; at the same time, he let the council know that he knew the Law on respect for rulers—although an evil man, Ananias still held a God-ordained office, and was to be granted the respect that position demanded. 

 

The man Ananias was despicable, but the office was respected.  Paul, showing his own instinctive knowledge of the law and his willing submission to the law, paid his respects to the position if not the person.  Paul made it clear that he did respect God’s representative in accordance with the Torah.  He was a law-abiding Jew in every respect.  His example might well be noted by people today who, in our democratic society, think nothing of vilifying people in office for those policies with which they happen to disagree. God always robes government and its officials with dignity.

 

 

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

 

Paul was undoubtedly rattled.  He had been assaulted by the mob, threatened with scourging by the Romans, and bullied by the high priest.  It was evident to him there was no chance of his receiving a fair trial in a court headed by such a man as Ananias.  His inability to suppress his emotions and the abusive words against the high priest could hardly ingratiate him with the priestly class or even gain the favor of Lysias. If he said, “I am a Christian,” and made his defense along that line, he could expect to be shouted down.  In his depression he acted politically though not spiritually.  Indeed what he did troubled him afterwards—Either let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, or about this one statement I cried out while standing among them, ‘Today I am being judged before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.’” (24:20-21).

 

He had already seen that the council was made up of Pharisees and Sadducees.  Pharisees were known for careful adherence to Scripture and were less comfortable with the high priest’s abuses of power. He had been raised a Pharisee—“Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5).  It would be likely that his father joined the sect after moving from Tarsus.  It was much easier for a Pharisee to become a Christian than for a Sadducee, who denied miracles and the resurrection.  Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and saw it as the great hope of the nation.  A resurrection of the dead constituted a major part of their hope in God’s final deliverance of His people. “The hope and resurrection” was central to Judaism, and many martyrs had died staking their hope on it.  Paul’s views did not violate any central tenets of Phariseeism; he was now a “Pharisee plus,” who taught that the resurrection had already been inaugurated in Jesus.  They (Pharisees) were thus theologically “ripe” for the Christian gospel that Christ had risen from the dead and that this proved him to be the hoped-for Messiah. They were already half-way along the road to Christianity.  It needed but a step for a Pharisees to see that the hope of Israel lay in the Lord Jesus, who had conquered death.  Paul believed he could recruit some allies in the counsel from the Pharisee party if he appealed to them along that line.

To Paul’s mind the Sadducean denial of resurrection would make Christianity utterly impossible, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.” (1 Corinthians 15:16).  The early Christians had met their first opposition from the Sadducees when they proclaimed in Jesus the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead (4:1, 2).  Now Paul asserted that he was a Pharisee, that the fundamental question at stake was that of the resurrection of the dead, and that it was really because of this doctrine that he was on trial.  Commentators note Paul’s shrewdness in playing the afterlife card, a key point of division between the two parties.

 

Paul knew that the Romans would lean over backwards to support Ananias since he was a devoted quisling.  With his back to the wall, the apostle’s only recourse was to introduce an element into the discussion which could divide the group. So, on the spur of the moment, Paul tossed a charge of high explosive into the council by identifying himself as a Pharisees.  That charge detonated at once in a most violent fashion.  Some commentators believe this was not a spur of the moment decision, that it seems unlikely that he did this on a sudden impulse, which is the impression we get from our text.  And it is even less likely that he only now became aware of the presence of Sadducees and Pharisees in the council.  Rather, something must have happened to bring these two parties to his attention.  In this connection we should keep in mind that the narrative is probably highly condensed and that Paul may have been speaking for some time.  Verse nine gives the impression that he had again related the events of his conversion in which his encounter with the risen Jesus brought to the fore the whole question of resurrection.  At this the Sadducees may have grown agitated and restless (notice the phrase “he cried out” which means he attempted to make himself heard above the hullabaloo), and so he brought the speech to a sudden conclusion described here—not dishonestly, by claiming to be what he no longer was, but as still one with the Pharisees with respect to the hope of the resurrection of the dead.  He made practically the same assertion before Agrippa in 26:5 (Also see Philippians 3:5).

 

 

7And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.

 

Having been a Pharisees, Paul was aware of the tension which existed between Pharisees and Sadducees over the teaching of the resurrection of the dead.  They were notorious for their disagreements; Pharisees taught that Sadducees had no part in the world to come, because they did not believe in life after death (at least not in a form acceptable to most other Palestinian Jews).  Paul had judged the temper of the assembly correctly.  The two parties began to squabble among themselves.  There is no strife as bitter as that generated by party politics, especially when it is fueled by religious animosities.  In a moment the two parties were at each other’s throats, and Paul could stand back and see the result of his hasty words.

 

The Sanhedrin consisted largely of the high priestly aristocracy and the ruling elders, who were primarily Sadducees.  The Pharisees were in the minority and were represented among the scribes who sat in the Sanhedrin.

 

 

8For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

 

No love was lost between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, as he well knew, and an appeal to the Pharisees on these grounds could well have won them to his side, for the Sadducees rejected the doctrine of resurrection, with its kindred belief in spiritual beings inhabiting a spiritual world.  The Sadducees only accepted the books of the Law as Scripture, and they saw no reference to resurrection in these. Angels and spirits, however, are found in the Pentateuch; and the Sadducees denial of them is not confirmed anywhere other than in Acts 23:8.  It is most unlikely that the Sadducees rejected the existence of angels and spirits as such.  To what then was Luke referring?  He may have meant that the Sadducees rejected the eschatology{1] of the Pharisees, which involved an elaborate hierarchy of good and evil angels.  Or perhaps it was the idea that an angel or a spirit can speak through a human being as an agent of revelation that Luke depicted the Sadducees as rejecting (v.  9). A final possibility is that the reference was a further elaboration of their rejection of the resurrection—they rejected an afterlife in an Angelic or spiritual state.  This would be much in keeping with Luke 20:36, where Jesus described the resurrection existence as “equal to the angels.” Those beliefs held by the Pharisees were closer to Christianity than those of the Sadducees.  Significantly, the Scripture records the conversion of Pharisees (15:5; John 3:1), but not of Sadducees.

 

Luke wrote down for posterity the position taken by each party; liberals against conservatives, agnostics against fundamentalists, the left against the right.  The gulf between them was as deep and as wide then as it is now, but as the animosity between the two groups grew in volume and venom, Paul began to have regrets about what he had done.

 

 

{1] Any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc.

 

 

And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

 

The affect of Paul’s outcry was dramatic. The volatile nature of the Jews of the day revealed itself at once.   Immediately there was a sharp division within the council, though he did not carry all of the Pharisees{2] with him, for only “some of the teachers of the law” who belong to their party defended the possibility that “a spirit or an angel” had spoken to Paul, and even then they were far from accepting his own account of what had happened on the road to Damascus.  The Sadducees rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead because the teaching was not found in the Pentateuch, the only section of the Old Testament which they accepted as Scripture.

The Pharisees took Paul’s part and demanded his acquittal.  The scribes{1], their legal experts, threw the weight of their learning and logic behind Paul.  The Sadducees however, were more infuriated than ever by Paul’s ploy.  Soon the shouting and disorder turned violent.  Probably the Pharisees came over to Paul’s side and arranged themselves alongside him, determined to protect him, while the Sadducees, in a body, sought to pluck him away so that they might vent their spite on the man who had insulted their high priest, endorsed Pharisaic absurdity, and championed the detested Christian sect.

 

How shall we classify this skillful maneuver by Paul?  Apparently, Luke did not think there was anything unworthy about what Paul did.  On the surface it does appear that the apostle’s motive was less than noble.  However, when we understand that his belief in the spiritual Messiah and Lord was predicated on the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:14), we should become less critical of the apostle’s action in this case.  Furthermore, it must be noted that the Pharisees took Paul’s side with the clear understanding that his view of the resurrection was based on the resurrection of Jesus.  Therefore, we should not accuse Paul of deception.  So far as he was concerned, the real issue was over the resurrection rather than a disturbance in the Temple.

 

 

{1] “Scribes”(Teachers of the law) were experts in interpreting the Jewish law.

{2] In Luke’s time (but not in Paul’s), the Pharisees were the sole surviving group, representing Judaism as such. 

 

10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.

 

With the members of the Sanhedrin now taking sides and perhaps even coming to blows, nothing more was to be gained from the inquiry.  So ended any hope the Tribune might have had of getting to the bottom of the matter by legal, rational, and sensible means.  Note, the Roman official in command on this occasion is called “the chief captain.”  This shows that the Tribune was not present and he had placed a subordinate in command. The Roman commander must have become convinced of two things.  First, that the Jews would not be able to reach a rational decision on the matter; and secondly, that the dispute was, at its core, a religious one.  But one who could cause so much trouble could not easily be released.  Indeed, Paul’s position now was even more perilous than before.  With both factions seizing him and pulling him this way and that, he was in imminent danger of being torn in two.  The Tribune gave the nod to his men, and a detachment of soldiers plunged into the mob to rescue Paul: his prisoner, whom he should guard with his life.  Whereas Lysias’s original seizing of Paul could be seen as an arrest (21:33), this time there is no doubt the Tribune served as his protector.  The apostle was once more taken into custody and made safe in the Antonia.  The site of the council chamber favored by most scholars today (based especially on Josephus) adjoins the temple on the southwest, perhaps a third of a mile from the fortress Antonia, where the Roman garrison was billeted.

 

 

 

Proverbs 16:9 reads, “In his heart a man plans his course, the Lord determines his steps.” Paul’s situation was bleak.  His fellow Jews wanted to kill him.  The Romans thought he was a revolutionary and arrested him.  He was a victim of lies and violence.  Distressed and discouraged by two unwarranted dreadful scenes on two consecutive days, the apostle must have felt as though the world had caved in on him.  There seemed hardly any chance that Paul’s dream to witness in Rome would come true, yet the Lord remained sovereign.  In the midst of his despair and melancholy state of mind, the Lord appeared to him in a vision (v. 11) during the night and gave him courage.  His long-desired trip to Rome was still to be a reality.  The Lord revealed in the vision that Paul would witness for him in Rome just as he had testified in Jerusalem.

 

 

 

One More Thing!

 

By the time of Luke’s writing of Acts, the high priest Ananias has indeed been “struck,” assassinated in a.d. 66, according to Josephus.  The Sadducees have ceased to exist as authorities, having lost their power base with the destruction of the temple by the Romans in a.d. 70.  This leaves the Pharisees, the current leaders of formative Judaism, as the most important figures for Luke’s readers.  They emerge in this episode not so much as defenders of Paul but rather as men acting in bad will.  Though they accept “the resurrection of the dead” as a hope, they resist Paul’s testimony that the hoped-for resurrection has already begun concretely in Jesus of Nazareth.

 

It is this, rather than Paul’s legal guilt or innocence that will remain the issue for the remainder of the book.  It is really the gospel that is on trial.  In the context of the narrative, Paul’s focus on the resurrection makes it clear to the Roman Tribune (the most important auditor of this hearing) that the charges against Paul are Jewish matters, nothing of concern to the imperial government.

 

 

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