PAUL ON TRIAL Acts 23–24
“Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea . . . and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor” (Acts 24:1).The best defense is the simple truth.
Paul’s statement to the Sanhedrin divided that body along party lines (23:1–11). The chief priests then joined a conspiracy to assassinate Paul (vv. 12–15). Paul’s nephew warned the Roman commander (vv. 16–25), who sent Paul under heavy guard to the Roman governor in Caesarea (vv. 26–35). On trial before Felix, Paul told the simple truth (24:1–21). Felix, hoping to be paid a bribe, delayed his decision for two whole years (vv. 22–27).
Understanding the Text
“The high priest Ananias” Acts 23:1–5.
The order of Ananias to strike Paul was in character. This Ananias was high priest fromA.D 48 to 59, and is mentioned in first-century writings. Josephus says he stole tithes given ordinary priests and bribed Romans and Jews. He is ridiculed in the Talmud, and was hated for both his brutality and greed. He was killed by Jews in the Jewish uprising ofA.D 66. Paul did not recognize Ananias as high priest because the meeting was called by the Roman commander, who would have been seated as presiding officer between the Sanhedrin on one side and Paul on the other. Paul’s outrage at the order he be struck was justified (v. 3). Yet he apologized, because the office of high priest commanded respect even though the man filling the office did not. In the secular world and in the church it’s right to show respect for the office. But it’s even better to see to it that secular and spiritual offices are held by those of high moral character and integrity. “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead” Acts 23:6–11. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and in angels, while the Sadducees did not. Paul identified himself with the first group, and claimed that the real issue before the court was belief in resurrection. Paul has been criticized for this statement, which some take as nothing more than a trick used to obscure the issue of his Christian commitment. But the resurrection is the issue. It was by his resurrection from the dead, Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, that Jesus was proven “with power to be the Son of God” (Rom. 1:4). The uproar that broke out “when he said this” (Acts 23:7) prevented Paul from developing this theme. But clearly Paul was laying the foundation for another presentation of the claims of Christ, by finding common ground with a large segment of his listeners. The accusation that Paul used a shoddy trick reminds us of the danger of standing in judgment on others’ motives. Christians are to agree with God’s assessment that certain acts are sinful. But we are not to judge the motives or personal convictions of others. “The dispute became so violent” Acts 23:10–11. Passionate belief is one thing. Doing violence to others is another. Paul may not have been surprised at the reaction of the Sanhedrin, but he was clearly endangered by it. God’s reassurance and promise were especially welcome at that time. God doesn’t speak with us today as He did to Paul. But the Lord speaks to us through His words to the great apostle. That “take courage” is for us in our times of turmoil or danger. So is the sense of His promise. As God had a purpose for Paul to fulfill, so He has a purpose for you and me to fulfill as well. “They went to the chief priests and elders” Acts 23:12–22. The “chief priests and elders” were members of the Sadducee party. They were also members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Judaism, responsible to administer God’s Law. All we can say about their willingness to join in a conspiracy to assassinate Paul is that it is a shocking revelation of their character. But never mind their hypocrisy. We need to watch ourselves! You and I need to be on guard against professing Christian values, and then acting in a way that denies them. Caesarea Maritima (“by the sea”) was so well designed by engineers that the action of the ocean itself kept the harbor clear of silt and drifting sand. The beautiful city, decorated by Herod the Great with many public buildings, was Palestine’s major seaport and the Roman administrative center. Paul was held there under house arrest for two years before being sent on to Rome for trial (Acts 24–25). “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything” Acts 23:14. Don’t suppose the conspirators starved when they didn’t kill Paul. Rabbinical rulings allowed any vow to be broken if it was incited by others, if it involved exaggeration, if made in error, or if unfulfillable. In other words, the vow to not eat until after murdering Paul was meaningless! No wonder Jesus once urged His followers to let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. If we are not persons of our integrity, making a vow is meaningless. “He wrote a letter as follows” Acts 23:23–35. When word of the conspiracy reached the Roman commander, he arranged to send Paul with a strong escort to the Roman governor at Caesarea. The original makes it clear that Luke did not have the specific letter, but that the commander’s letter was similar to the summary Luke includes. “Your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation” Acts 24:1–9. It was typical to launch a case in court with flattering remarks addressed to the judge. But the words addressed to Governor Felix by the orator hired by the chief priests to bring charges against Paul are so blatantly false as to be hypocritical. Felix was born a slave, but later was freed by the mother of the Emperor Claudius. The Roman historian Tacitus called Felix “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king with the spirit of a slave.” His years in Palestine saw numerous insurrections, and Felix used increasingly brutal methods to put them down. To speak of Felix’s rule as a “period of peace” and to commend the governor for bringing about reforms was worse than ridiculous. How strange it is that those who wish to be flattered lose perspective on reality. The greater the lie, the more welcome it seems. No wonder Scripture warns us, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3). “Paul replied” Acts 24:10–21. Paul’s reply was quite different from the accusation. He used no flattery (v. 10). He identified himself as a Christian (vv. 14–16). And he stated simply the facts that refuted their charges. He had only come to Jerusalem 12 days earlier: how could he be a “ringleader” of anything? (v. 11) When he was taken he was alone: how could he “stir up riots” without talking to a crowd? (vv. 12, 18) As to why he was in Jerusalem, he came to worship, and to bring gifts from Christians to the (Christian) people of Jerusualem (vv. 17–18). If Paul were guilty of some other charge, where were his accusers? (v. 12) This last question was significant, as Roman law penalized accusers who committed destitutio, abandoning charges made against another person. If no accusers appeared, the legal significance was that of withdrawing the charges. It was clear, then, that there was no legal basis to condemn or even to hold Paul. Was Paul acquitted? No. The governor decided it would be expedient to use judicial delay in hopes feelings would grow less intense—and in hopes that Paul might bribe him to obtain his release (v. 26). Being in the right is no guarantee to either acquittal or justice. All you and I are guaranteed is that God is in full command of our situations, and that He intends to do us good.
Having Our Say(Acts 24:1–27)
On the one hand, Acts 24 seems to be a defeat or at least a setback for Paul. He made a compelling defense before the Roman governor Felix, and showed how weak the chief priest’s case against him was. But Felix waffled, and refused to decide the case. Paul was put under house arrest, and kept there for two years! Later Felix and his third wife, Drusilla, a Jewess who abandoned her husband Azizus to marry Felix, heard Paul discourse on “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (v. 25). Felix was frightened and sent Paul away. Only his hope that Paul would offer him a bribe moved Felix to talk with Paul from time to time. It looked like failure. But in fact it was success! For Paul, and the Gospel, had a hearing. That’s really what we Christians want. A hearing. We shouldn’t expect to be popular. Or that the majority of folks will experience instant conversion. But at the least we must have a chance to be heard. That’s why it’s significant that powerful media unions, the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) want to censor a new publication called TV, designed to report information on networks, stars, and program content. The values reflected in TV are those espoused by Paul as he confronted Felix and Drusilla with the biblical teaching on “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” While AFTRA and SAG are both adamant against censorship of the movie and TV industries, actor John Randolph, who introduced a resolution at AFTRA’s national convention condemning the TV newsletter, said, “I want this to be stopped before it really gets started.” If you want information on networks, sponsors, and groups which are actively anti-Christian, and on Christian organizations working to help Christians have our say in modern society, write the American Family Association, P.O. Drawer 2440, Tupelo, MS 38803.
Don’t be discouraged if few respond to your witness. Having your say is success!
“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear . . . in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man.”—Albert Camus