“Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.
Though Paul had been rescued by the Romans in the previous chapters and had been allowed to speak to the mob from the stairs of the barracks, the matter was not yet resolved to the satisfaction of the Roman commander. Therefore, he called in the Sanhedrin and Paul to give testimony. Acts 22:30 says,“But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he (Paul) had been accused by the Jews, he (the commander) released him (Paul) and ordered the chief priests and all the Council (the Sanhedrin) to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.”
In Acts 23:1-11 we have Paul’s testimony before the Sanhedrin (Council). At this time, Paul was Satan’s number one target and the target of all religious organizations, since religion is always sponsored by Satan. When Paul stood up before the Sanhedrin he intended to defend himself on the basis of Jewish law (Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day). The Greek word for brethren refers to the Jewish nationality of Paul. Lived is the Greek word “politeuo” and it means to live as a citizen (of Rome). He said nothing at this point about his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. As he stood there, he intended to defend himself on the basis of citizenship. Lived indicated that he had been a citizen in Jerusalem for many years and that as a Jew living in Jerusalem he had always conducted himself in accordance with the principles of the Mosaic Law. So he used the words perfectly good conscience. The word good means good of intrinsic value; the word conscience indicates that he understood divine establishment principles and that he had never been lawless. In other words, he had not violated the laws of the land in any way. Paul was saying in effect that he was not guilty of their charges.
As soon as Paul said he was innocent, that there was no charge that could ever be brought against him, the high priest commanded them that stood by to strike him on the mouth. The Greek word for strike is “tupto,” which means a blow with the hand or the fist. Apart from the fact that it was painful to Paul, it was illegal. This violent act told Paul that he was not going to have a fair trial because under Jewish law a person was supposed to be tried without injury during the trial. Jewish law assumed that a person was innocent until proven guilty. However, remember that religion had now infiltrated into Jewish law, and religion assumed that a man was guilty until proven innocent. Ironically, Paul was in the same corrupt court that had illegally tried Stephen. What a turn of events for Paul; from the persecutor to the persecuted.
Deuteronomy 25:1-3 says, “If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes.”
Notice that Paul was struck without being found guilty. This assembly had already decided that Paul was guilty. He was not condemned as a “wicked” man, so this was a violation of the Law of Moses.
“Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
Apparently the high priest was not dressed in his high priestly garments and could not be distinguished from the rest of those sitting in judgment. Therefore the apostle Paul had no way of knowing who was giving the order to strike him. All Paul knew was this person giving the order to strike him had violated the very principle of Jewish law. Paul now took the attitude that since the administration of true Jewish law came down from God Himself and was originally given in the Mosaic Law that any violation of it would be handled by God. (God is going to strike you.) Paul was calling the high priest a hypocrite for corrupting and violating the law of God. Under true Jewish law a man was innocent until he was proven guilty, but the high priest had done just the opposite.
The bystanders were wrong to call the high priest “God’s high priest.” He was a high priest appointed politically but he was not God’s high priest. Paul knew the law as well as anyone in the room and he resented the miscarriage of justice; Paul resented the fact that an excellent system of justice was being abused. That was why he resented this judge. But as soon as Paul understood that this was the high priest, he was able to use the law in his defense (for it is written).
“But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”
Paul used the differences in theology to establish dissension in the court in order to finally get his acquittal because he realized that he was not going to get a fair trial. Paul was trained as a Pharisee and recognized by speech and/or by dress that the room was split between Sadducees and Pharisees who generally opposed one another theologically. The Sadducees were usually the very wealthy people, they were rationalistic in their approach, and they did not accept the Old Testament Scriptures. The Sadducees were rationalists and they were only interested in maintaining their political power. The Pharisees on the other hand were the Jewish theologians of the day. Most of the scribes came from the Pharisees; most of the chief priests were Sadducees. For the Sadducees said that there was no such thing as resurrection, angels, spirit beings, but the Pharisees believed in them all. One of the things today that is denied, even as then by any form of rationalism, is the unseen Angelic Conflict. So here was the split.
Paul recognized this split and used it to his advantage. He immediately seized his opportunity to step in and “divide and conquer.” So when it says Paul “perceived,” it means he was thinking under pressure. The reason Paul could think under pressure was not because of his genius, it was because he had Bible doctrine in his soul. Thinking clearly under pressure requires doctrinal capacity with which to think. Thinking Bible doctrine, pressure or no pressure should be a way of life for every believer.
Paul was not lying when he said he was on trial for the hope and the resurrection of the dead. Paul was stating a fact that he had been preaching. Of course, he was preaching that the hope was found by faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah (Savior). The Pharisees of course rejected Christ as the Savior even though it was true. And the resurrection was certainly included in his Gospel message.
“And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.”
The Pharisees now took the initiative. They were going to defend one of their “own.” They were going to defend their doctrine, and immediately this was no longer a court, it was a situation where the Pharisees were heated and they were going to defend their position at all costs. No longer was Paul on trial for criminal activity, it was now a matter of the whole belief system of the Pharisees. The judges were now divided.
Apparently the Pharisees were in the majority and they literally acquitted Paul of any wrong doing. The Pharisees were saying that when you say something against the doctrine of the Pharisees you are fighting against God. The Sadducees could only get upset and continue to cause dissension, but could not make a case against Paul. Their emotions were raging and they wanted Paul dead. So fierce was their desire that the commander was afraid they would kill Paul right then and there.
Fortunately for Paul there were Roman troops standing by to protect him, by force if necessary. Paul was innocent of any crime, and an innocent man was about to be destroyed in the highest court of the Jews. But Roman law intervened by force and Paul, a Roman citizen, was spared. Apparently the commander had had enough of these belligerent Jews and took Paul back to the barracks for his own safety.
“But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.’”
The Lord stood at his side means to appear suddenly and be in one’s presence. The Greek word for stood is “ephistemi,” which means to stand by to help. Paul’s failure did not remove God’s love or God’s grace. Paul had not been deserted in any way, and this is true of every believer who fails.
The Greek word for courage is “tharseo”meaning to be confident. One of the characteristics of the Christian life is confidence, and confidence is based on the application of the Word of God. Virtue-love is a source of confidence and courage: confidence towards God and courage towards man and circumstances. Courage is being able to think clearly under pressure. Uncontrolled fear is the opposite of courage. Fear causes self-induced misery and often carries with it a punishment of its own. For example, a believer who succumbs to fear has placed himself in a position of weakness. This weakness causes him to make poor decisions, which often bring with them poor results. He has become the product of his own decisions to disobey God by failing to name his sin and to resume his spiritual life.
Paul was now discouraged and under a great deal of pressure. He must have realized that his own legalistic failure brought him to this point. He had failed the Lord; he had sinned; he had succumbed to legalism. He was also frustrated. He came to Jerusalem to minister to the Jewish saints and evangelize the Jewish unbelievers because he was emotionally involved. His emotionalism caused him to get out of the geographical will of God. He had possibly entered into some form of self-recrimination leading to a guilt complex.
We have a principle here that we should all apply when necessary. The first thing we should do when we sin is confess it, put it behind us and move forward. We can’t sit around blaming ourselves for our past mistakes. This was exactly what Paul was doing. There is no place for this in the Christian life. (Philippians 3:12-16) A believer must never be overwhelmed by his sense of failure. We all have failed and will continue to fail, but God’s grace has provided for this failure according to I John 1:9.
Paul did not witness for Christ in the usual way while in Jerusalem. The Greek word for solemnly witnessed is “marturomai” which is not the ordinary word for witnessing. The ordinary Greek word for witnessing is “martureo,” which means to bear witness or to communicate. But the Greek word used here for solemnly witnessed (at Jerusalem) is “marturomai” meaning a protest type ministry. Paul had done nothing in Jerusalem by way of communicating doctrine. Paul shared all of his wonderful experiences and attempted to appeal to the emotions of the believers and unbelievers in Jerusalem. The legalistic believers in Jerusalem apparently weren’t interested in grace teaching and the unbelievers rejected the Gospel of grace. Paul’s approach of appealing to their emotions did not work.
When Paul finally got to Rome and back in the geographic will of God, he communicated doctrine because there were those who were positive and not caught up in legalism. From Rome, Paul communicated a great deal of doctrine: the epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. The prison epistles, as they are called, are all about grace. It was God’s purpose for Paul to write those four letters in Rome, not in Jerusalem - not in the mist of legalism.