March 16, 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.4: The Response of the People (Acts 22:22-29)                 

 

 

ACTS 22:22-29 (KJV)

 

22 And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.

23 And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,

24 The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.

25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?

26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.

27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.

28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.

29 Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The narrative following Paul’s address is extremely dramatic and filled with suspense.  At first it looked once more as though Paul might be torn into shreds by the Jewish mob (22), but he was again rescued by the Roman tribune and taken safely into the barracks.  But then the tide turned against Paul again as the tribune decided to examine him by the cruel Roman method of scourging (24).  Again Paul was rescued—this time by an appeal to his Roman citizenship (25-29).

 

 

 

COMMENTARY

 

22 And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.

 

AND THEY GAVE HIM AUDIENCE UNTO THIS WORD.  What lay behind the desire on Paul’s part to speak to these people?  Surely it was a great and passionate craving to persuade his brethren after the flesh.  Why else would he ask to speak to this infuriated mob?  His greatest desire was for the Jewish people, that they might yet come to an understanding of the truth.

 

As soon as Paul mentioned the detested word Gentiles they gave vent to their zealous rage, which had become increasingly intense, because it had been held back ever since Paul was rescued from the crowd in the court yard, by soldiers. They yelled, they shouted, they despised Paul, saying that he was “not fit to live.”  They were beside themselves.  For Paul to go minister to the Gentiles was unpardonable; that he should go to them and tell them that the One they had crucified, was the Messiah and the Savior of the world, the Lord from heaven, was to them the crime of crimes.  Paul was a traitor.

 

“AWAY WITH SUCH A FELLOW FROM THE EARTH!” they screamed. They were through listening to anything Paul had to say.  They would hear no more of this blasphemy [“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, (7:57)],and the opportunity was gone for Paul to defend himself—had that been his desire—against the specific charge that he had “brought Greeks into the temple area” (21:28b).  But in any case, that charge was only incidental.  The Jews real objection, that he had talked “against our people and our law and this place” (21:28a), had been sufficiently borne out by what they had heard.

 

Paul should have known better than to refer to his “Gentile” witness.  It was ultimately Paul’s openness to Gentiles that got him in trouble with the crowd. [“They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple”; 21:29)]In those days of rising Jewish nationalism, Paul’s law-free Gentile mission seemed to be disloyal to all that was Jewish [“They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs” (21:21).]  It was no surprise that the crowd resumed its cry of “away with him.” [“The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!” (21:36).]This time they escalated their outcry, adding that such a scoundrel had no right even to exist.

 

 

 

23 And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,

 

It was good for Paul that the courtyard of the temple was paved.  Had there been stones lying around, they would have been used to stone him to death then and there.  As it was, they expressed their abhorrence of him vividly enough through wild gestures of outrage.  They tore off their outer garments and flung them in the air.  They scooped up dust and flung it about.  The multitude was a mob once again.  At any moment it could be expected to storm the stairway in an effort to seize Paul.  The tribune and the soldiers must have been astonished by this sudden outburst of concentrated hate by a crowd that, moments before, had been listening to their prisoner with riveted attention.  Their astonishment must have been increased by the fact that they had not been able to understand a word of the language in which he had addressed the crowd.

 

No one is sure what they did with their cloaks.  They either tore them as a gesture of horror and blasphemy (14:14), or they threw them off their bodies as if ready to stone Paul (see 7:54-60; the stoning of Stephen), or they shook them out as if trying to rid themselves of the contamination of his blasphemy, or they waved them wildly in the air to express their collective outrage.  Neither is the symbolism of casting dust in the air altogether clear.  It may have been a gesture of horror at perceived blasphemy, or it may have been that they hurled dust at Paul for lack of something more solid from the temple courtyard.  Throwing dust on one’s head was a sign of mourning; removing it from one’s feet meant removing what was unholy (13:51); they may also shake dust from their removed garments to repudiate Paul (18:6).

 

 

24 The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.

 

It was not a safe place for Paul, and Lysias, recognizing that, quickly ordered him to be taken into the barracks{3].  The tribune still did not have any idea of what the crowd had against Paul [“Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks” (21:34).]  Paul’s address had clarified nothing for him, particularly since it was in Aramaic.  However, when the Tribune saw them in their mad frenzy, he concluded that Paul must have been guilty of some very serious crime; perhaps he thought Paul had intentionally inflamed the crowd.

We can sympathize with the exasperated tribune. He had given Paul permission to speak, and the miracle had happened.  Paul had quieted the mob with a gesture and a word, and the tribune was just congratulating himself that all was well when the tumult erupted again.  He knew he had no hope of getting anywhere with that yelling mob.  At any moment it might go on a rampage, and he himself might be in trouble with his superiors.  He must get at the truth; therefore, he decided to use the standard Roman method of torture for getting the truth out of a slave or a common “non-Roman” citizen. A few strokes of the dreaded flagellum and Paul would talk fast enough.  This form of torture could kill a man or leave him permanently crippled.  This was the punishment Christ received (Matthew 27:26), leaving Him unable to carry His cross.

As the uproar outside the fortress intensified, the tribune gave the order; “scourge him.” This was a particularly cruel manner of scourging.  It was a much more severe manner of beating than beating with rods, which Paul and Silas underwent at Philippi (16:22, 37; 2 Corinthians 11:25).  It was not uncommon for the victim to die as a result of the flagellum.  Luke made it clear that the command to whip Paul was not for punishment; but rather, to obtain information.

 

Some may say, “Shouldn’t he have suffered, even if it meant martyrdom?” No; because martyrdom is only of value when it cannot be avoided.  A cheap martyrdom never produces any great results. 

 

 

25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?

 

Paul was no stranger to beatings.  He had been beaten with lectors’ rods, and he had been lashed (whipped) by the Jews, but the scourge was something else.  The scourge was a fearful thing.  It consisted of leather straps weighted with sharp bits of iron and bone, bound to a stout wooden handle.  In the hands of a brawny soldier, it could tear out great lumps of flesh.  A flying piece of bone or metal could blind or cripple a man for life.  It took a very tough man indeed to survive a thorough scourging.

 

At the tribune’s command, Paul was seized and bound and the instrument of torture brought out of its case.  Then Paul played his trump card, one kept in reserve against such a moment as this.  Paul was not about to undergo such torture unnecessarily; and as they stretched him out for the flogging, he produced his Roman citizenship.  He inquired: “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”{2] The seemingly innocent question immediately caught the attention of the centurion in charge of the scourging.  It definitely was not legal to examine a Roman citizen by scourging.  The Valerian and Porcian laws clearly established the illegality of such an act, and any Roman officer who transgressed this exemption would himself be guilty of a serious breach of law.  To bind a Roman citizen was serious enough but to scourge him was clearly illegal, and to do either to an uncondemned Roman was worst of all.  The centurion was thoroughly alarmed.  Off he went to apprise the tribune of this new and unexpected turn of events.

 

 

26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.

 

The centurion immediately halted the process and lost no time in reporting the new development to his commanding officer.

 

There are times for a believer to claim his civil rights.  A believer should be willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, but there is no virtue in suffering merely for suffering’s sake.  Where protection of the law exists and can be invoked without compromise or complication, it can be invoked.  A believer should not resort to the law for every petty offense, but in matters where the alternatives are serious and the means of legal redress exists, it is not wrong to seek the protection of the law.

 

 

27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.

 

Back the tribune came in a hurry.  No doubt Paul was quite a spectacle from the rough treatment he had received at the hands of the soldiers and the mob.  The tribune could hardly believe that this scarecrow was a Roman.  By now Lysias must have been thoroughly perplexed about Paul.  At first he mistook him for an Egyptian revolutionary.  Then he learned that he was a Jew and a citizen of the important city of Tarsus, a man of some culture who spoke polished Greek.  Now he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen.  The surprises were not over.  Soon he learned that Paul was no Johnny-come-lately to citizenship status like himself but one who was born a citizen (28).  There were five ways to become a Roman in those days:

1)      Citizenship was sometimes granted by imperial decree as a reward for services rendered, etc.

2)      It was possible to become a Roman by birth.  This was the case with Paul; he was born in Tarsus, a free city of the Roman Empire, and his father was a Roman citizen.

3)      It was possible to purchase citizenship, often at a very high price.  Thus the commander had obtained his citizenship by paying a large sum (28).

4)      It could be given to a retired auxiliary soldier as a reward for long service to the Empire.

5)      It was common practice that after a slave was freed by his or her owner that he was given Roman citizenship.

 

 

28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.

 

AND THE CHIEF CAPTAIN ANSWERED, WITH A GREAT SUM OBTAINED I THIS FREEDOM.The Emperor Claudius, and especially his wife Messalina, had made the much-prized citizenship available to almost anyone for a suitably large cash payment.  Since the tribune included the name “Claudius” in his signature (23:26) we can assume he had acquired his citizenship (and possibly his military rank) in that fashion, but he could not see how this beggarly-looking Jew could ever have afforded such a luxury. “You?” he said, “a Roman?  Why, I paid a fortune for my citizenship.”

 

 

Lysias’s comment that he had purchased his citizenship would have been most unlikely in the earlier empire.  Citizenship was often conferred for performance of some service to the state or for military duty.  Slaves of a citizen who were freed on the basis of service to their owner were granted citizenship.  With the granting of colony status whole towns were given citizenship.  But individual purchase of the rights of citizenship would have been looked on suspiciously.  There is evidence, however, that under Claudius there was increasing abuse of the privilege; and purchase citizenship became common.  That Lysias purchased his citizenship during this time is highly likely given his name, Claudius Lysias (23:26).  One generally took the name of the patron through whom citizenship was obtained.  It is possible that Lysias was being a bit sarcastic when he mentioned paying a “GREAT SUM” for his citizenship, the implication being perhaps that “now it seems that just anyone can afford it.”{1] If that was so, Paul’s response would have been a shocker: no, he did not pay a big price but was born into it.

 

AND PAUL SAID, BUT I WAS FREE BORN. “I WAS FREE BORN,” said Paul.  “I did not buy my citizenship.  I was born a citizen, and my father was a citizen before me.” Possibly Paul’s family acquired citizenship for some outstanding service rendered to the Empire, perhaps to Pompeii or to Mark Anthony.  The status of Roman citizen would put Paul’s family in high society at Tarsus, though probably, as practicing orthodox Jews, they refrained from taking full advantage of their position.

 

There has been much speculation about how Paul’s family received their citizenship.  One theory is that they were part of a large resettlement of Jewish freedmen by Pompey in Cilicia in 63 b.c.  This is based on a misunderstanding of Pompey’s action as well as on a misapplication of a tradition reported by Jerome that Paul’s family migrated to Tarsus from Gischala in Galilee.  Another view suggests that the tent making trade of Paul’s family may have proved useful to the Roman military and been rewarded with citizenship.  Such suggestions are wholly speculative.  We simply do not know for certain just how his family came into citizenship status.  Luke made his point well; however, Paul was a Roman citizen and one of considerable status.  Those who were born citizens had higher status than those who achieved yet; Paul thus has superior citizenship status in some sense.  His citizenship would hereafter play a large role in the narrative of Acts as Paul interacted with Roman officials.

 

 

29 Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

 

The usual way of trussing up a man about to be scourged was to tie his hands.  He was then tied to a pillar or hauled up by his hands and suspended in the air.  Evidently things had progressed to this point before Paul spoke.  He now had the tribune very much on the defensive.  It was a serious offense to violate a Roman citizen’s rights, especially in the high-handed way Paul had been manhandled, and the tribune knew it.  He acted at once to redress the wrong as far as he could, but Paul was too much of a Christian to press his advantage.

 

On learning of Paul’s citizenship, the whole procedure was stopped immediately.  There is a question which might be asked at this point in the narrative.  Someone may want to know; couldn’t anyone avoid flogging by simply claiming to be a Roman citizen?  Perhaps; but if a person falsely claimed to be a citizen, he was liable to the death penalty.  So, how could a person show that he was really a Roman citizen?  There were several ways. For example, there were citizenship papers, and the roman toga of citizenship could be worn, but usually a verbal assurance was accepted, with a heavy penalty imposed for falsifying.

 

Lysias was himself quite alarmed, realizing that he had placed Paul in chains.  The picture here is not entirely clear, and our knowledge of Roman law is limited.  Evidently the Julian and Porcian laws protected Roman citizens from sudden arrest, from being placed in chains without a preliminary hearing.  Paul’s situation was complicated by the fact that his detention could be considered protective custody rather than arrest.  However that may be, from this point on Lysias and his men were especially kind to Paul now that they knew he was a Roman citizen. God was using the great power of the Empire to protect His servant and eventually get him to Rome. Lysias still did not know the charges against his prisoner.  Examination by scorching had been ruled out, so now the tribune turned to another avenue for answering his questions—the Jewish Sanhedrin.

 

 

 

 

Special Notes

 

{1]A roman historian, one Dio Cassius seems to bear this out, noting that Claudius’s wife Messalina and the members of her court would sell citizenship rights for their own personal gain.  He adds that at first the price was high but gradually degenerated to the point where citizenship could be had for a few scraps of glass.

{2] Although Paul had neither been charged nor condemned, Roman citizens were evidently subject to scourging only when actually convicted of a crime.  Cicero’s famous quote would indicate that in his day flogging a Roman citizen was simply not conceivable: “to bind a Roman citizen is it a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder.”

{3] The Tower of Antonia served as both a residence for the governor and a barracks for soldiers

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