Acts 22: 30 and 23: 1 – 11 Paul before the Sanhedrin
The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and set him before them.
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!’
Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘How dare you insult God’s high priest!’
Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realise that he was the high priest; for it is written: “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.” ’
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. ‘We find nothing wrong with this man,’ they said. ‘What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’
* * *
Nothing about this passage seems to have much to do with Jesus.
Starting at the end, we read, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’ (Acts 23: 11)
What does Acts tell us about Paul’s testimony in Jerusalem?
He’s reported to James and the elders “in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” (Acts 21: 18 – 19)
He’s undertaken a vow that makes it plain he believes ritual purity is important (Acts 21: 23 – 26)
In the course of fulfilling his vow, his presence starts a riot from which he has to be rescued by Roman authority.
He himself starts another riot when he gives his ‘defence’ to the crowd. In this defence he talks about his own experience of Jesus, but says next to nothing about Jesus’ teaching and ministry. (See Acts 2; 14 – 41 to contrast this with Peter’s teaching)
He exploits his Roman citizenship to win protection from the Jews.
When addressing the Sanhedrin, he is struck in the face on the instruction of the high priest. In response, he speaks offensively to him, calling him a ‘whitewashed wall’. When challenged, he shows he knows the scripture that warns against such speech – “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (Exodus 22: 28) – but he doesn’t apologise; he offers an excuse.
Compare Paul’s behaviour with that of Jesus in a similar situation:
“When Jesus said this, one of the officials near by slapped him in the face. ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest,’ he demanded.
‘If I said something wrong,’ Jesus replied, ‘testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?’” (John 18: 22 – 23)
Finally, Paul deliberately causes uproar in the Sanhedrin, setting the Pharisees and Sadducees at each other’s throats.
Paul was human and fallible. He was also the source of much of our doctrine, which is the way we understand the life of Jesus and its relevance to us. This passage reinforces my caution in approaching the teaching of St Paul; I do not see the love of God that I see in much of the gospels.
If I am wrong in my understanding of this passage of scripture, please correct me and help me to accept your correction.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.