Acts 23


Paul defending himself before the high priest, he commands him

to be smitten on the mouth, 1, 2.

Paul sharply reproves him, and, being reproved for this by one

of the attendants, accounts for his conduct, 3-5.

Seeing that the assembly was composed of Pharisees and

Sadducees, and that he could expect no justice from his judges,

he asserts that it was for his belief in the resurrection that

he was called in question, on which the Pharisees declare in

his favour, 6-9.

A great dissension arises, and the chief captain, fearing lest

Paul should be pulled to pieces, brings him into the castle,


He is comforted by a dream, 11.

More than forty persons conspire his death, 12-15.

Paul's sister's son, hearing of it, informs the captain of the

guard, 16-22.

He sends Paul by night, under a strong escort of horse and

foot, to Caesarea, to Felix, and with him a letter, stating

the circumstances of the case, 23-33.

They arrive at Caesarea, and Felix promises him a hearing when

his accusers shall come down, 34, 35.


Verse 1. I have lived in all good conscience] Some people seem

to have been unnecessarily stumbled with this expression. What

does the apostle mean by it? Why, that, while he was a Jew, he was

one from principle of conscience; that what he did, while he

continued Jew, he did from the same principle; that, when God

opened his eyes to see the nature of Christianity, he became a

Christian, because God persuaded his conscience that it was right

for him to become one; that, in a word, he was sincere through the

whole course of his religious life, and his conduct had borne the

most unequivocal proofs of it. The apostle means, therefore, that

there was no part of his life in which he acted as a dishonest or

hypocritical man; and that he was now as fully determined to

maintain his profession of Christianity as he ever was to maintain

that of Judaism, previously to his acquaintance with the Christian


Verse 2. The high priest, Ananias] There was a high priest of

this name, who was sent a prisoner to Rome by Quadratus, governor

of Syria, to give an account of the part he took in the quarrel

between the Jews and the Samaritans; see Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx.

cap. 6, s. 8; but whether he ever returned again to Jerusalem,

says Dr. Lightfoot, is uncertain; still more uncertain whether he

was ever restored to the office of high priest; and most uncertain

of all whether he filled the chair when Paul pleaded his cause,

which was some years after Felix was settled in the government.

But Krebs has proved that this very Ananias, on being examined at

Rome, was found innocent, returned to Jerusalem, and was restored

to the high priesthood; see Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. cap. 9, s. 2;

but of his death I find nothing certain. See Krebs on this place,

(Observat. in Nov. Testament. e Flavio Josepho,) who successfully

controverts the opinion of Dr. Lightfoot, mentioned at the

beginning of this note. There was one Ananias, who is said to have

perished in a tumult raised by his own son about five years after

this time; see Jos. Antiq. lib. x. cap. 9. War, lib. ii. cap. 17.

To smite him on the mouth.] Because he professed to have a good

conscience, while believing on Jesus Christ, and propagating his


Verse 3. God shall smite thee, thou whited wall] Thou hypocrite!

who sittest on the seat of judgment, pretending to hear and

seriously weigh the defense of an accused person, who must in

justice and equity be presumed to be innocent till he is proved to

be guilty; and, instead of acting according to the law, commandest

me to be smitten contrary to the law, which always has the person

of the prisoner under its protection; nor ever suffers any penalty

to be inflicted but what is prescribed as the just punishment for

the offense. As if he had said: "Thinkest thou that God will

suffer such an insult on his laws, on justice, and on humanity, to

pass unpunished?"

Verse 5. I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest]

After all the learned labour that has been spent on this subject,

the simple meaning appears plainly to be this:-

St. Paul did not know that Ananias was high priest; he had been

long absent from Jerusalem; political changes were frequent; the

high priesthood was no longer in succession, and was frequently

bought and sold; the Romans put down one high priest, and raised

up another, as political reasons dictated. As the person of

Ananias might have been wholly unknown to him, as the hearing was

very sudden, and there was scarcely any time to consult the

formalities of justice, it seems very probable that St. Paul, if

he ever had known the person of Ananias, had forgotten him; and

as, in a council or meeting of this kind, the presence of the high

priest was not indispensably necessary, he did not know that the

person who presided was not the sagan, or high priest's deputy, or

some other person put in the seat for the time being. I therefore

understand the words above in their most obvious and literal

sense. He knew not who the person was, and God's Spirit suddenly

led him to denounce the Divine displeasure against him.

Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.] If I had

known he was the high priest, I should not have publicly

pronounced this execration; for respect is due to his person for

the sake of his office. I do not see that Paul intimates that he

had done any thing through inadvertence; nor does he here confess

any fault; he states two facts:-1. That he did not know him to be

the high priest. 2. That such a one, or any ruler of the people,

should be reverenced. But he neither recalled or made an apology

for his words: he had not committed a trespass, and he did not

acknowledge one. We must beware how we attribute either to him in

the case before us.

Verse 6. I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee] Instead of

φαρισαιου, of a Pharisee, ABC, some others, with the Syriac and

Vulgate, have φαρισαιων, of the Pharisees; which, if

acknowledged to be the genuine reading, would alter the sense

thus, I am a Pharisee, and a disciple of the Pharisees, for so the

word son is frequently understood.

Of the hope and resurrection] Concerning the hope of the

resurrection, the και, and, being here redundant; indeed, it is

omitted by the Syriac, all the Arabic, and AEthiopic. St. Paul

had preached the resurrection of the dead, on the foundation and

evidence of the resurrection of Christ. For this, he and the

apostles were, some time before, imprisoned by the high priest and

elders, Ac 4:1-3; 5:17, because they preached, THROUGH JESUS, the

resurrection of the dead. This they could not bear; for, if Jesus

Christ rose from the dead, their malice and wickedness, in putting

him to death, were incontrovertibly established.

Verse 7. And the multitude was divided] St. Paul, perceiving the

assembly to consist of Sadducees and Pharisees, and finding he was

not to expect any justice, thought it best thus to divide the

council, by introducing a question on which the Pharisees and

Sadducees were at issue. He did so; and the Pharisees immediately

espoused his side of the question, because in opposition to the

Sadducees, whom they abhorred, as irreligious men.

Verse 8. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection] It is

strange, since these denied a future state, that they observed the

ordinances of the law; for they also believed the five books of

Moses to be a revelation from God: yet they had nothing in view

but temporal good; and they understood the promises in the law as

referring to these things alone. In order, therefore, to procure

them, they watched, fasted, prayed, &c., and all this they did

that they might obtain happiness in the present life. See the

account of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Mt 3:7; 16:1.

Verse 9. The scribes-arose, and strove] διεμαχοντο, They

contended forcibly-they came to an open rupture with the

Sadducees; and, in order to support their own party against them,

they even admitted as truth, St. Paul's account of his miraculous

conversion, and therefore they said, if a spirit or an angel hath

spoken to him, &c. He had previously mentioned that Jesus Christ

had appeared to him, when on his way to Damascus; and, though they

might not be ready to admit the doctrine of Christ's resurrection,

yet they could, consistently with their own principles, allow that

the soul of Christ might appear to him; and they immediately

caught at this, as furnishing a strong proof against the doctrine

of the Sadducees, who neither believed in angel nor spirit, while

the Pharisees confessed both.

Let us not fight against God.] These words are wanting in ABCE,

several others, with the Coptic, AEthiopic, Armenian, later

Syriac, Vulgate, and some of the fathers.

Verse 10. The chief captain-commanded the soldiers to go down]

It appears that the chief captain was present during these

transactions, and that he had a body of soldiers in readiness in

the castle of Antonia; and it was from this that he commanded them

to come down; for the rescue and preservation of Paul.

Verse 11. Be of good cheer, Paul] It is no wonder if, with all

these trials and difficulties, St. Paul was much dejected in mind;

and especially as he had not any direct intimation from God what

the end of the present trials would be: to comfort him and

strengthen his faith, God gave him this vision.

So must thou bear witness also at Rome.] This was pleasing

intelligence to Paul, who had long desired to see that city, and

preach the Gospel of Christ there. He appears to have had an

intimation that he should see it; but how, he could not tell; and

this vision satisfied him that he should be sent thither by God

himself. This would settle every fear and scruple concerning the

issue of the present persecution.

Verse 12. That they would neither eat nor drink, &c.] These

forty Jews were no doubt of the class of the sicarii mentioned

before, (similar to those afterwards called assassins,) a class of

fierce zealots, who took justice into their own hand; and who

thought they had a right to despatch all those who, according to

their views, were not orthodox in their religious principles. If

these were, in their bad way, conscientious men, must they not all

perish through hunger, as God put it out of their power to

accomplish their vow? No: for the doctrine of sacerdotal

absolution was held among the Jews as among the Papists: hence it

is said, in Hieros. Avodah Zarah, fol. 40: "He that hath made a

vow not to eat any thing, wo to him, if he eat; and wo to him, if

he do not eat. If he eat, he sinneth against his vow; and if he do

not eat, he sinneth against his life." What must such a man do in

this case? Let him go to the wise men, and they will loose him

from his vow, as it is written, Pr 12:18:

"The tongue of the wise is health." When vows were so easily

dispensed with, they might be readily multiplied. See Lightfoot.

Verse 15. And we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.]

We shall lie in wait, and despatch him before he can reach the

chief captain. The plan was well and deeply laid; and nothing but

an especial providence could have saved Paul.

Verse 16. Paul's sister's son] This is all we know of Paul's

family. And we know not how this young man got to Jerusalem; the

family, no doubt, still resided at Tarsus.

Verse 17. Bring this young man unto the chief captain] Though

St. Paul had the most positive assurance from Divine authority

that he should be preserved, yet he knew that the Divine

providence acts by reasonable and prudent means; and that, if he

neglected to use the means in his power, he could not expect God's

providence to work in his behalf. He who will not help himself,

according to the means and power he possesses, has neither reason

nor revelation to assure him that he shall receive any assistance

from God.

Verse 23. Two hundred soldiers] στρατιωτας, Infantry or foot


Horsemen threescore and ten] There was always a certain number

of horse, or cavalry, attached to the foot.

Spearmen] δεξιολαβους, Persons who held a spear or javelin in

their hand; from εντηδεξιαλαβειν taking or holding a thing in

the right hand. But the Codex Alexandrinus reads δεξιοβολους,

from δεξια, the right hand, and βαλλειν, to cast or dart,

persons who threw javelins. But both words seem to mean nearly the

same thing.

The third hour of the night] About nine o'clock P.M., for the

greater secrecy, and to elude the cunning, active malice of the


Verse 24. Provide them beasts] One for Paul, and some others for

his immediate keepers.

Felix the governor.] This Felix was a freed man of the Emperor

Claudius, and brother of Pallas, chief favourite of the emperor.

Tacitus calls him Antonius Felix; and gives us to understand that

he governed with all the authority of a king, and the baseness and

insolence of a quondam slave. E libertis Antonius Felix per omnem

saevitiam ac libidinem jus regium servili ingenio exercuit. Hist.

v. 9. He had, according to Suetonius, in his life of Claudius,

chap. 28, three queens to his wives; that is, he was married

thrice, and each time to the daughter or niece of a king.

Drusilla, the sister of Agrippa, was his wife at this time; see

Ac 24:24. He was an unrighteous governor; a base, mercenary,

and bad man: see Ac 24:2.

Verse 25. He wrote a letter after this manner] It appears that

this was not only the substance of the letter, but the letter

itself: the whole of it is so perfectly formal as to prove this;

and in this simple manner are all the letters of the ancients

formed. In this also we have an additional proof of St. Luke's


Verse 30. I sent straightway to thee] As the proper person

before whom this business should ultimately come, and by whom it

should be decided.

Farewell.] εππωσο, Be in good health.

Verse 31. Antipatris.] This place, according to Josephus, Antiq.

lib. xiii. cap. 23, was anciently called Capharsaba, and is

supposed to be the same which, in 1 Macc. vii. 31, is called

Capharsalama, or Carphasalama. It was rebuilt by Herod the

Great, and denominated Antipatris, in honour of his father

Antipater. It was situated between Joppa and Caesarea, on the

road from Jerusalem to this latter city. Josephus says it was

fifty stadia from Joppa. The distance between Jerusalem and

Caesarea was about seventy miles.

Verse 32. On the morrow they left the horsemen] Being now so far

from Jerusalem, they considered Paul in a state of safety from the

Jews, and that the seventy horse would be a sufficient guard; the

four hundred foot, therefore, returned to Jerusalem, and the horse

went on to Caesarea with Paul. We need not suppose that all this

troop did reach Antipatris on the same night in which they left

Jerusalem; therefore, instead of, they brought him by night to

Antipatris, we may understand the text thus-Then the soldiers took

Paul by night, and brought him to Antipatris. And the

thirty-second verse need not to be understood as if the foot

reached the castle of Antonia the next day, (though all this was

possible,) but that, having reached Antipatris, and refreshed

themselves, they set out the same day, on their march to

Jerusalem; on the morrow they returned, that is, they began their

march back again to the castle. See Clarke on Ac 24:1.

Verse 33. Who] That is, the seventy horsemen mentioned above.

Verse 35. I will hear thee] διακουσομαισου; I will give thee a

fair, full, and attentive hearing when thy accusers are come; in

whose presence thou shalt be permitted to defend thyself.

In Herod's judgment-hall.] εντωπραιτωριω, In Herod's

praetorium, so called because it was built by Herod the Great. The

praetorium was the place where the Roman praetor had his

residence; and it is probable that, in or near this place, there

was a sort of guard room, where state prisoners were kept. Paul

was lodged here till his accusers should arrive.

ON the preceeding chapter many useful observations may be made.

1. Paul, while acting contrary to the Gospel of Christ, pleaded

conscience as his guide. Conscience is generally allowed to be

the rule of human actions; but it cannot be a right rule, unless

it be well informed. While it is unenlightened it may be a guide

to the perdition of its professor, and the cause of the ruin of

others. That conscience can alone be trusted in which the light of

God's Spirit and God's truth dwells. An ill-informed conscience

may burn even the saints for God's sake!

2. No circumstance in which a man can be placed can excuse him

from showing respect and reverence to the authorities which God,

in the course of his providence, has instituted for the benefit of

civil or religious society. All such authorities come originally

from God, and can never lose any of their rights on account of the

persons who are invested with them. An evil can never be of use,

and a good may be abused; but it loses not its character,

essential qualities, or usefulness, because of this abuse.

3. Paul availed himself of the discordant sentiments of his

judges, who had agreed to show him no justice, that he might rid

himself out of their hands. To take advantage of the sentiments

and dispositions of an audience, without deceiving it, and to

raise dissension between the enemies of the truth, is an impotent

artifice, when truth itself is not violated and when error is

exposed thereby to public view.

4. The Pharisees and Sadducees strove together. God frequently

raises up defenders of the principles of truth, even among those

who, in practice, are its decided enemies. "Though," says one, "I

do not like the truth, yet will I defend it." A man clothed with

sovereign authority, vicious in his heart, and immoral in his

life, fostered those principles of truth and righteousness by

which error was banished from these lands, and pure and undefiled

religion established among us for many generations.

5. The providence of God, and his management of the world, are

in many respects great mysteries; but, as far as we are

individually concerned, all is plain. Paul had the fullest

assurance, from the mouth of Christ himself, that he should see

Rome; and, consequently, that he should be extricated from all his

present difficulties. Why then did he not quietly sit still, when

his nephew informed him that forty men had conspired to murder

him? Because he knew that God made use of the prudence with which

he has endowed man as an agent in that very providence by which he

is supported; and that to neglect the natural means of safety with

which God provides us is to tempt and dishonour him, and induce

him in judgment to use those means against us, which, in his

mercy, he had designed for our comfort and salvation. Prudence

is well associated even with an apostolical spirit. Every being

that God has formed, he designs should accomplish those functions

for which he has endowed it with the requisite powers.

6. Claudius Lysias sent Paul to Felix. "In the generality of

human events," says one, "we do not often distinguish the designs

of God from those of men. The design of Lysias, in preserving Paul

from the rage of the Jews, was to render his own conduct free from

exception: the design of God was, that he might bring Paul safely

to Rome, that he might attack idolatry in its strongest fort, and

there establish the Christian faith." God governs the world, and

works by proper means; and counterworks evil or sinister devices,

so as ultimately to accomplish the purposes of his will, and cause

all things to work together for good to them that love Him.

7. Felix acted prudently when he would not even hear St. Paul

till he had his accusers face to face. How many false judgments,

evil surmises, and uncharitable censures would be avoided, did men

always adopt this reasonable plan! Hear either side of a complaint

separately, and the evil seems very great: hear both together, and

the evil is generally lessened by one half. Audi et alteram

partem-hear the other side, says a heathen: remember, if you

have an ear for the first complainant, you have one also for the


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