February 26, 2016

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

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

                

                          

Lesson: IV.E.3: Paul's Defense (22:1-21)

 

 

 

ACTS 22:1-21 (KJV)

 

1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.

2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)

3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

4 And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.

5 As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.

6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.

7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.

9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

10 And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.

11 And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.

12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,

13 Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.

14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.

15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.

16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

17 And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance;

18 And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.

19 And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee:

20 And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.

21 And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Paul’s speech before the temple crowd was primarily aimed at establishing his complete commitment to Judaism.  What he evidently could not accomplish through his participation in the Nazarite vow he now sought to establish by this speech.  Basically, the speech was his own first-person narrative of the events Luke related in chapter 9: his former zeal for Judaism (vv. 1-5), his encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus road (vv. 6-11), and the visit of Ananias (vv. 12-16) The final portion of his speech is new to the Acts narrative but evidently occurred on Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, the visit covered by 9:26-30.  It relates a vision Paul had in the temple, where the risen Lord commissioned him for his mission to the Gentiles (vv. 17-21).  Up to this point the crowd had listened attentively to Paul’s words.  But with his reference to the Gentile witness, Paul was in trouble with them again (v.  22).

 

 

 

COMMENTARY

 

1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.

 

Paul was in serious trouble, for he had been arrested by the Roman authority for the purpose of making him safe from his enemies, who had agitated the crowd against the apostle, and then beat him in the courtyard. But he would soon be given permission to speak to the hostile crowd from the steps of the tower called Antonia. Paul’s aim was to make peace with this unfriendly and aggressive crowd, which is immediately evident in his salutation, “men, brethren, and fathers.” Stephen had used the same form of address to the council (7:2), and it may have been that some members of the council were now present to see what was going on—hence the “fathers” (but in 23:1 Paul addressed the Sanhedrin simply as “brethren”).  Paul felt that he was in a sense on trial, so he spoke in his own “defense.” In Acts the word means more than simply answering charges; it includes the thought of witnessing for the Lord.  “Defense” becomes, so to speak, attack, for in his speech the gospel is preached to Paul’s accusers.  His speech did not, however, address the charge that started the riot—the accusation that he had desecrated the temple by bringing a Gentile into it.  It did address the larger issue—Paul’s faithfulness to Judaism. His main line of defense is that Christianity is not a new and dangerous religion, but a legitimate outgrowth of Judaism (18:12-17).

 

He knew better than to begin with some strong or provocative statement.  He did not go on a tirade or scold them.  He spoke to the multitude calmly, as man to man, knowing well the wise words of Solomon, “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).  He began with a respectful appeal to their reason, to their sense of fair play, and he identified himself with them, and requested that he might be permitted to speak in his own defense, to tell them his side of the story.

 

 

2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)

 

He opened his speech in Aramaic{1] which produced at least one of the results he was aiming at: he gained their attention.  In Paul’s day westerners spoke Greek, and easterners spoke Aramaic, a kindred language of “Hebrew.”  Paul wanted to capture the crowd, and he could be surer of securing their attention if he spoke to them in their common language.  Anyone who has traveled much to foreign countries knows that to have someone speak to him in the flawless language of his own mother tongue touches his heart as well as his mind.  Few Jews of the Diaspora{2] could speak the language of Palestine, and one who could, deserved to be heard.  So they grew very quiet.  He may have begun to win some hearts as well.

 

 

3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

 

 

“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia” (3a). The speech is in three parts.  First, he talks about his early conduct, that is, his life prior to the Damascus road experience.  He told them of his past life in much the same way as in Galatians 1:13-17, Philippians 3:4-11, and 1 Timothy 1:12-16 (see also Acts 26:4.). He tells the story as though he was seeing himself through the eyes of two different groups.  To the Jews he appeared to be devoted to the law. He identified himself as a Jew, especially a Jew of the Dispersion, a Hellenistic Jew.  Perhaps he hoped to secure the goodwill of the Jews in the audience.  The Hebraists in the crowd would understand, too, that Paul by being born in a Gentile city would have a familiarity with and empathy for the Gentile world not to be found among Palestinian Jews.  They would automatically classify him as a more liberal Jew than those born in Jerusalem and Judea and would make a measure of allowance for his inferiority.

Though born in Tarsus, he had been brought up in Jerusalem.  His family must have moved to Jerusalem when he was still quite young{3].  This point needs to be mentioned in view of the general assumption that Paul had become acquainted with Greek language and thought in his early years in Cilicia. 

“Yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (3b).

This verse and 26:4 place him in Jerusalem as a young child, though he must have retained some links with Tarsus (9:30; 11:25; Galatians 1:21).  He had been educated in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel{5].  His training had consisted of strict instruction in “the law of our fathers” (both the written law and the oral tradition).  Paul’s use of this phrase (“the law of our fathers”) now, brings to mind his own former pride as a Pharisees in keeping the law (Philippians 3:6).  In Galatians 1:14 he describes himself as once a “zealot” for the traditions; here, with exactly the same meaning, he says that he had been a “zealot” for God (1:13)—as indeed his hearers still were.  But note the qualification of Romans 10:2: “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”  Zeal needs to be tempered with knowledge.

Paul cleverly disarmed any rising hostility in the minds of the strict Hebraists in the crowd when he told them he was actually reared right there in Jerusalem, and that he was educated by none other than the famous Gamaliel.  Thus in his opening remarks Paul connected himself to both Jewish factions in the crowd.  He was Hellenistic, and he was a Hebrew.  It was a stroke of genius to introduce the name of Gamaliel, for Gamaliel was the greatest teacher of the day and a disciple of the illustrious and gentle Hillel, one of the leading rabbis of the age.  Gamaliel was well-known in Jerusalem as a moderate who favored tolerance, not violence, in dealing with opposing factions in the country.  Paul thus identified himself as a trained rabbi, a man schooled in the law and in rabbinic interpretation of the law.  Moreover, he was zealous and, like them, eager to serve the God of the fathers according to the law and according to the traditions and teachings of the Elders.  All his remarks showed how his early life was in every respect that of a strict, practicing Jew.  Again, this is the very point Paul wanted to underscore with the Jerusalem Jews: far from being a law-breaker, which was the charge they made against him (21:21, 28), Paul’s former life had been marked by a zeal for the law that matched or exceeded their own.

 

 

4 And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.

 

To the Christians he gave the impression he was a persecutor of the church—the point is made to show his audience just how zealous he had once been.  In his unconverted days, he had hounded the followers of “this Way{4] to their death (9:2), using the Jewish term for the church, not wishing to irritate these Jews by the introduction of Christian terminology.  Some commentators take the phrase “unto the death” as expressing only Paul’s intention, for otherwise his reference to arresting believers and throwing them into prisons is anticlimactic.  But verses 22:20 and 26:10 are sufficient grounds to accept these words at face value.  Clearly the persecution was more extensive than 8:3 and 9:1 and 26:11 would suggest.  For the inclusion of women in the program, see 8:3.

 

Paul was the recognized and authenticated agent of the Sanhedrin to stamp out Christianity.  Anyone in the crowd acquainted with the facts know this to be so.  If anyone doubted it, all they had to do was ask the high priest or any member of the Sanhedrin.

 

 

5 As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.

 

But events at Damascus had changed his life.  He had obtained “letters” of introduction to the “brethren” in Damascus (this use of this term stressing his kinship with the Jews) from the “high priest” and all the council.  This was not the current high priest (Ananias, 23:2), but probably Caiaphas.  Either he was still alive for Paul to make the appeal of this verse (literally, “he is bearing witness”) or the appeal was to the collective memory of the Sanhedrin (or their records) as to what had been done in the past.  The Greek of this verse could be construed to mean that he had gone to Damascus to arrest only those Christians who had fled there from Judea and not those already residents in the city.  But the point cannot be verified.

 

Who, in that hostile crowd had been as zealous for the law as he?  Who had so thoroughly and rationally demonstrated his zeal for the ancestral faith?  Judaism, indeed, had controlled his life.  He had been a Hebrew of the Hebrews, zealous to the point of persecuting the church.  But something had happened to change and transform his life.  Judaism was no longer controlling him.  He had found a new motivation.

 

 

Verses 6-11.  Beginning in verse 6, Paul related his vision of Christ on the Damascus road.  This is one of three detailed accounts of Paul’s conversion given in Acts.  The first, contained in 9:1-30, is Luke’s third-person narrative of Paul’s experience.  The present account and that of 26:4-23 are Paul’s own testimony to the event, delivered in the course of his defense speeches. 

 

 

6 And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.

 

The second part of his speech is about his conversation.  The story, now told in Paul’s words, is essentially the same as in 9:3-19.  Where it adds to the earlier narrative, it does so with details that either reflects the personal nature of the recollection or are most likely to appeal to his Jewish audience.  Thus he mentions here that it was at noon that he saw the light (26:13).  He emphasizes its brightness, since it outshone the sun.  As a candle, so bright in a darkened room, pales to a feeble yellow flame before the brightness of the noonday sun, so the sun was now dimmed before the burning splendor of a light from heaven.  In the New Jerusalem, John tells us, they need “no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light” (Revelation 22:5).  This was the light that fell all about Saul on the Damascus road.  It was a light that swallowed all shadows, that bathed mountain and plain in a sea of splendor, and that blinded him.  He was in the presence of a Glory beyond all thought, beyond all power to describe. Only after experiencing such a wonder would he have changed the course of his life. 

 

 

7 And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

8 And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.

 

He “fell to the ground” (compare 26:14, where they all fell) and heard the voice, as in 9:4, except that here Jesus is given the title “of Nazareth” (but compare 26:15).  This was Paul’s view of the Christ of God.  So far as we know, he had never known the meek and lowly Jesus of Nazareth after the flesh.  He had certainly not been one of the Lord’s earthly disciples.  Paul knew Him only as “Jesus of Nazareth,” and this view colored all his thinking about Jesus. “Jesus of Nazareth” was one of the common titles used by Jewish people to emphasize Jesus’ human origin.  Paul’s use of the title here is evidence that the human Jesus is now the resurrected Lord and Messiah. His first glimpse of Him had been a blinding vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he carried that vision with him all his life.  It pervaded his preaching; lent luster to his letters, and became the driving, motivating force of his life.

 

“Who art thou, Lord?” he said. “I am Jesus of Nazareth,” replied the Lord.  (The title occurs seven times in Acts, beginning with Peter’s sermon in acts 2:22.) The Lord from heaven described himself to Saul by the very name so despised by the Jews.  “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) they said.  Ah, yes, indeed!  The Lord of Glory Himself once came from Nazareth.  The vision of the ascended Christ, the accompanying realization of his utter foolishness, the futility, guilt, and shame of his life hit Saul “like a ton of bricks.”  Then and there, forever and ever, Saul of Tarsus exchanged Judaism for Jesus.

 

 

9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

 

Paul explained that the men who were with him “saw the light, but did not understand the voice of him who was speaking.” As in 9:4 and 7, so it is here in verses 7 and 9; Paul heard intelligible words, but his companions heard only a sound—to them it was not speech.

 

 

10 And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.

 

His whole life lay in ruins about him.  He had depleted himself in persecuting the infant church and in reviling Jesus, the one he now knew to be the Lord from heaven. “What shall I do, Lord?” was his dispirited cry (it is an addition to the earlier account; 9:5).  At once he discovered that the risen Lord had a plan for his life—“. . . go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.  The full scope of that plan was not revealed right away, but the next step was made clear.  He must “go into Damascus” and await further enlightenment.

 

The designation “Lord” would not at first have had the significance that it later had for the apostle, but he now fell into the Christian use of the title in his narration: “the Lord said . . .” Jesus was not, of course, Lord to this Jewish crowd.  Jesus’ reply is essentially the same as in 9:6.  Up to this point in his speech, Paul had identified closely with his Jewish listeners.  In every way he had shown himself to be as Jewish as they were.  Now he began to draw the line that differentiated him from them.

 

 

11 And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.

 

That the light was divine in its origin is confirmed by the phrase “the Glory of that light” (NIV “the brilliance of the light”).  The reference is to the Shekinah—the Glory of God manifested to human beings: “And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham . . .” This verse explicitly attributes Paul’s blindness to this cause (“the glory of that light”; the glory of God), which comes from his own recollections, but in 9:8 it is simply stated that he is blind.  His companions on the other hand seem not to have been affected.  They lead him “by the hand . . . into Damascus,” and there he was left—left with time to think, time to pray, time to reevaluate his whole life and the tragic mistake he had made in persecuting Jesus and His followers.

 

 

12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,

 

The third part of the speech is about his commission.  With Paul, conversion brought an immediate call to service; however, much of his mission remained to be clarified in the years ahead.  The instrument of his calling was Ananias, to whose earlier description Paul now added that he was a “devout” observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living in Damascus.  This was undoubtedly true of Ananias, but it served Paul’s purpose to show that such a man played a key role in his conversion—no law-breaker, but a man highly regarded for his piety.  Paul wished to make the same point about Ananias he had been making about himself—that his Christian faith had not in any way detracted from his loyalty to Judaism.  Notice that he did not mention that Ananias was also a Christian, not to this audience.  But he described him as a Jew whose good name was beyond reproach.  He was a Jew in touch with Jesus, a Jew not ashamed or afraid to call his bitterest enemy his brother (v. 13). 

 

 

13 Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.

14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.

15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.

 

The last thing Saul had seen was the face of the Christ.  The next thing he saw was the face of a Christian.  He had seen the Head; now he saw a member of the Body (v. 13).  But Ananias, a Christian Jew from Damascus, had come to him—to him, the great persecutor of the church—and had called him “brother.” Moreover, he had produced a miracle.  He had restored his sight.  The abiding result of having seen Jesus would be that the image would remain in the mind’s eye.  To have seen the risen Lord was an essential qualification of an apostle (1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; etc.).

 

But because the story was being told from Paul’s point of view, we hear nothing of Ananias’ vision and of the struggle he had had in bringing himself to go to Paul (9:10-16).  As far as Paul was concerned, Ananias had simply appeared at the house on Straight Street with two things to say: first, a word of healing—“Brother Saul, receive your site!” (v. 13; 9:17); and second an announcement concerning his future work. 

 

Paul, much more than Luke in the earlier narrative, retained the Jewish dialect of Ananias’ speech: “The God of our fathers” and “the voice of his mouth” (v. 14; 15:7b), to which may be added the archaic description of Jesus, as that Just One” (3:14; 7:52; 11:20).  The “Just One” is a Jewish messianic title, found earlier in the speeches of Peter and of Stephen to the Jews (3:14; 7:52).  The same title was given to James the brother of Jesus, who was called James the Just (i.e., Righteous) because of his devotion to the Jewish law.

 

By recalling Ananias’ phrase “the God of our fathers,” Paul may have been hoping once again to show his oneness with his audience.  But the verb he “has chosen” (v. 14), seems always to indicate a most pressing duty (Exodus 4:13; Joshua 3:12) and may be intended by Luke to express here what he knew to be Paul’s own consciousness of his high calling—“But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (9:15).  It indicates a choice and a calling made long before his response to it (Jeremiah 1:4).  Out of consideration for his audience, Paul did not yet employ the word “Gentile” in stating to what precisely he had been called.  He put it only in general terms—to be a “witness to all men of what” he had “seen and heard” (v. 15; v. 21; 9:15; 26:17; Galatians 1:16).  As he had persecuted the Lord from heaven, so henceforth he must proclaim Him.  He was to be a witness.  A witness is not an attorney. The work of a “witness” is simply to testify what he has “seen and heard.”  That was to be Paul’s life work.  And he was to bear that witness “to all men”—not just to the Jews.  Obviously the Jewish crowd did not catch on that “all men” included the Gentiles.  This became much more specific in Paul’s account of his temple vision (v. 21).  At that point the Jewish crowd got the message all too clearly (v. 22). Paul was leading up now to his great call to evangelize the Gentile world.  He approached it cautiously, for he knew only too well the temper and prejudice of that crowd.  He made clear that his commission was conveyed to him by a brother Jew, a devout Jew, a law-abiding Jew, a Jew who was respected by all other Jews in town.  He labored the point because he hoped it would bridge the vast gulf of their bitter, narrow-minded religious prejudice and racial pride. 

 

 

16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

 

According to 9:17, Ananias had already announced the gift of the Holy Spirit to Paul. “And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 9:17, KJV). The phrase translated “why tarriest thou?” is a common Greek saying and implies that it was time Paul acted on this commission from the Lord.  The first step obviously was to “be baptized” into the community of believers. Be baptized, and wash away thy sins” could be taken as a proof text for baptismal regeneration.   In the early church baptism was a symbolic and indispensable testimony of the conversion experience; however, it is faith in Jesus and not baptism that saves (Acts 16:31; Ephesians two 8-9).

 

The question in this verse runs parallel with that of Peter in 10:47—Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”—and it follows the gift of the Spirit to Cornelius and his friends.  The question is an abrupt one, sounding almost like a rebuke.  It demanded a clearer response.  The faith that is the prerequisite of forgiveness and of baptism is applied in the phrase, “calling on the name of the Lord,”the professions of faith in Christ that is the basis for the act of baptism.

 

“Baptism” would publicly identify him with the Lord and with His people, and “calling on the name of the Lord” would remove his guilt and sin.  By this step he would publicly and forever disassociate himself from the Jewish nation’s crime of crucifying the Christ of God.  The requirement was similar to the one demanded of the convicted Jews on the day of Pentecost (2:37-38).

 

 

 

17 And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance;

18 And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.

 

The commission that Paul had received through Ananias was subsequently confirmed by a vision (“an ecstasy”; 10:10; 23:11) as he was praying in the temple (9:11).  This was not mentioned earlier but it was important to mention it now to show that to Paul, a Christian, the temple remained a place of prayer and worship.  A man who had prayed in the temple was not likely to have profaned it (21:28).  Paul’s experience would resonate with Jews, who knew that God had sometimes spoken to the prophets through visions (Isaiah 6:1-13).

 

Immediately after his conversion Paul retired to the wilderness of Arabia. I believe that during that time God revealed a great deal to Paul and prepared him for his unique ministry which included writing much of the New Testament, establishing churches, and preaching and teaching the Word of God. From Arabia he returned to Damascus, ran into opposition, escaped from his enemies, and paid a brief visit to Jerusalem, his first since his conversion.  It was probably at that time he had the experience he now described to the crowd in the temple court.  It had happened there, while he prayed.

 

Right after his conversion Paul must have began to witness, as Stephen had done before him, to the Greek-speaking Jews, and had attracted to himself the same hatred that he had once felt for Stephen.  But the Lord had other plans for Paul than to let him perish at the very outset of his new career, a victim of the passions of the Jews, whether at Damascus or Jerusalem.  “They will not receive thy testimony concerning me,” He said.  They might, perhaps, receive the testimony of others, but Paul stared too many passions.  He could serve the cause of Christ better somewhere else.  God’s imperative purpose had been made clear to him—right there, in these same Temple courts, years ago.  Get out of Jerusalem and hurry! 

 

Almost certainly these verses belong to the period of 9:26-31.  However, the different reasons given here and in 9:29 for him leaving the city have troubled some people.  The two passages are not irreconcilable.  In the earlier account, Luke was describing the circumstances as they would have appeared to an objective observer—a Jewish plot against Paul (which he was hardly likely to have mentioned now) that had led the disciples to take the action they did.  Paul, on the other hand, speaks here of his own inner experience as he wrestled in prayer with the knowledge of that plot, wondering what he should do.  In the end it had seemed that the Lord was endorsing the action proposed by the disciples, bidding him to leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people would not accept his witness.  Paul’s Gentile mission was thus connected closely to the refusal of the Jews to accept his witness to Christ.

 

 

19 And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee:

20 And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.

21 And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.

 

Paul’s prayer in the temple is described as though he had debated with the Lord the question of whether or not he should go (leave Jerusalem).  His argument was that if the people were going to listen to anyone, they would listen to him, for he had been a persecutor of the Way, going “from one synagogue to another,” arresting and beating the believers (26:11).  But then he had become a believer himself.  Before that, he had even taken part in the murder of Stephen.

 

Paul continued, telling his audience (getting restless now, perhaps, from these references to their rejection of Christ and His witness and by the reminder of what they had done to Stephen) of his plea to the Lord that he might be allowed to make some amends for his part in persecuting the church, for he had been thorough and systematic in his attack, as the expression “in every synagogue” suggests.  It can be rendered “synagogue by synagogue.”

 

What Paul was attempting to do, by making this a pointed reference to his own past career as a determined persecutor of the church and by reminding his listeners of the active part he had played in Stephen’s martyrdom, must have been clear enough to his listeners.  He was trying to get them to realize, knowing his record as many of them did, that he must have had some convicting reasons for changing his ways.  If that is what Paul hoped to accomplish, he was soon disillusioned, for with his next words the storm broke.

 

The crowd was willing to listen to Paul’s conversion account, and they do not even object immediately to calling “Jesus of Nazareth” (v. 8) the “Righteous One” (22:14), but when Paul mentions that he was sent “to the Gentiles” (22:21), the crowd erupts with anger.  For hundreds of years Jews had lived under Gentile rule.  To many Jews the mission of the Messiah was to punish the Gentiles and deliver the Jews from their hands; instead of preaching a message against the Gentiles, however, Paul emphasized that this Messiah is sending him to preach the good news among the Gentiles. Jerusalem was not the Mission Field for him.  God had told him so.  His field was the world, the far-flung “Gentile” world.  That was his commission, to be an apostle to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, to the Romans and to the regions beyond.  The very people the Jews looked upon as dogs would be his sheep.  If Paul had their interested attention at first, he had lost it now.  Paul’s statement“I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles”—infuriated them because they understood this to be the reason that Paul had brought a Gentile into a forbidden area of the temple—the false charge they had brought against Paul.

 

 

 

Special Notes

 

{1] Aramaic. A Semitic language that was the language in Palestine in the time of Christ and in which a fewsections of the Old Testament are written.

{2] Diaspora. The scattering of the Jews to countries outside of Palestine after the Babylonian captivity.

{3] The common view has been that Paul was reared in Tarsus and only came to Jerusalem at age 12 or 13 for his study under Gamaliel.

{4] “This Way.” The Old Testament establishes the symbolism of this word.  “Way” is a term that indicates a well-traveled path.  Metaphorically it refers to the actions of human beings who keep or reject the “way of the Lord” (Genesis 18:19; Psalm 27:11).  Christ had established “he Way”; to persecute the Way was to persecute Christ himself (9:5; 22:8). In the New Testament, the sense of “way” is clear.  Often it simply means “manner.” But often too the Old Testament metaphor for a way of life is retained.  When the word refers to following the Lord Jesus Christ, it is often capitalized (e.g., Acts 9:2: “If he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”).

{5] Gamaliel. In the Christian tradition, Gamaliel is celebrated as a Pharisee doctor of Jewish Law, who was the teacher of Paul the Apostle. He was the president of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, grandson and disciple of the famous scholar Hillel, and he advocated leniency toward Christians.The author of the Book of Acts portrays Gamaliel with great respect. He was also known as “Gamaliel I,” and “Gamaliel the Elder.”

 

 

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