Paul delivers his defense (apologia) to the crowds who were demonstrating against him. It is a masterpiece.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Paul’s Early Days (Acts 22:1-5)
1 “Men, brothers, and fathers! Hear now my defense to you!” 2 When they heard that he was addressing them in the Aramaic dialect, they got even quieter. 3 I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, being taught in the strictures of the ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. 4 I persecuted this Way even to death, tying up and putting both men and women in prison. 5 Even the high priest and the entire eldership testify for me; from them I got letters to their brothers and was going to Damascus, bringing them as prisoners from there to Jerusalem, so they might be punished.
For continuity, here is the final pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section of Scripture from Acts 21:
37 When they were about to take him into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “May I be permitted to say something to you?” He said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who ignited a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the desert some time ago?” 39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man, from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city. I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” 40 He allowed it. Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When a great hush took place, he spoke in the Hebrew language, saying …. (Acts 21:37-40)
Further, Paul’s defense fulfills Jesus’s promise that the Spirit will help his witnesses:
11 “And when they bring you before the synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry how or what you will speak in self-defense or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very time what must be said.” (Luke 12:11-12)
This prediction is generic and not to be taken ultraliterally:
14 Put it in your heart not to prepare ahead to defend yourselves, 15 for I will give you speaking ability with words and wisdom which your opponents will not be able to withstand or contradict. (Luke 21:14-15)
No one can contradict Paul’s story, based on a full worldview which allows visions.
“defense”: it is the noun apologia (pronounced ah-poh-loh-gee-ah, and the “g” is hard). It simply means “defense,” “answer” or “reply.” Luke will use the term in 24:10; 25:8, 16; 26:1-2, 24 (see also 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 7:11; Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:15). The verb is used in Luke 12:11; 21:14; Acts 19:33; 24:10; 25:8; 26:1, 2, 24.
The average church goer is scared of apologetics, with good reason. Often apologists speak over people’s heads inside the church. (One apologist actually said on a skeptical radio show: “I’m not certain God exists.” He meant that he is not 100 percent certain or something like it. Bad strategy for church. Does he want to be pulled off the platform at church in midsentence? Only 30% of Americans have a Bachelor’s degree, and about half have some college, below that watermark. When these defenders learn to break down their message for the laity, and stop coming across as mean, out-of-touch intellectuals, Average Joe Christian will appreciate the apologetics ministry better.
Paul is becoming all men to all people (1 Cor. 9:19-23). When he was out in the field, in the larger Greek world, he spoke Greek, which he knew fluently. Now he is in Jerusalem standing before a whipped-up crowd of extra-devout Jews, so he speaks their native language.
Paul describes his testimony in his epistle to the Philippians as follows:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Phil. 3:4-9, NIV)
“this city”: it refers to Jerusalem. So when did his parents send him to Jerusalem? After he reached puberty? At least one scholar says mid-teens.
“at the feet”: disciples of rabbis sat on the floor, while the rabbis were seated on a platform.
“strictures”: it means “most accurate” and “fullest sense.” Paul used to be a super-devout Jew, belonging to the faction of the Pharisees.
We think Paul was raised in Tarsus and went to Jerusalem as a young man (late teens), but e says here he was raised in Jerusalem, but I can’t imagine is was three to five years old or ten eight years old. In short, I don’t know how young he was, but surely it was earlier than eighteen years old. Bruce cites a scholar (J. Klausner) who refers to a passage in the Babylonian Talmud that mentions an unnamed disciple who manifested “impudence in matters of learning” (Shabbat 30b). Klausner thinks that this student was Saul / Paul. I like the connection because it sounds like Saul / Paul, but Bruce dismisses it with “doubtful cogency” (comment on vv. 3-4, note 6).
Finally, Paul’s last two phrases are designed to relate to his audience. He used to be like them. His credentials cannot be disputed.
“Way”: Greek: hodos (pronounced hoh-dohss). It means the “path” or “road.” In Greece today, it is the standard word for street and road, and you will see street signs with “od” or “OD” or St. with the name of the street. John the Baptist, through the OT prophet Malachi, launched the idea: “Prepare the way (hodos) of the Lord!” (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). Jesus said the road (hodos) to life is narrow (Matt. 7:14). And Jesus said he is the way (hodos), the truth, and the life (John 14:16). He is the road way to God.
In this age of pluralism and multiculturalism, don’t be afraid to proclaim the exclusivity of Jesus. You can find some elements in other religions where you can build a bridge (e.g. they also say not to steal), so you do not have to denigrate them through and through. But you will discover that other religions claim exclusivity. Buddhists believe Hindus are wrong; Sikhs believe Hinduism and Islam are shortsighted and deficient. Muslims who know their Quran believe all other religions are wrong and deny, for example, the essential conditions for salvation: the Lordship of Jesus, his Sonship, his crucifixion, and his bodily resurrection. Do I need to keep going on about Islam?
Please see these posts:
“men and women”: If women have a share in being persecuted, do they have a share in ministry? They better.
“testify”: it is in the present tense, so Paul is using vivid language, as if he says, “Go over there and ask them yourselves, right now!”
“brothers”: the NIV correctly has “associates.” In other words, the leaders of the High Jewish Court (the Sanhedrin) sent letters with Paul to inform their associates in Damascus that he could legally arrest and imprison the Messianic Jews.
You can read about Paul’s persecution of them in Acts 8.
1b And so on that day there was a severe persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Everyone except the apostles was scattered to the region of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men took Stephen up for burial and lamented for him. 3 Saul was devasting the church, going from household to household, dragging off both men and women and putting them in prison. (Acts 8:1b-3)
Paul Sees the Light on the Damascus Road (Acts 22:6-11)
6 It happened to me as I was going and nearing Damascus, at midday: suddenly a very bright light from heaven shone around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 8 I answered, “Who are you, lord?” He said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you are persecuting” 9 And those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one speaking. 10 I said, “What should I do, lord?” And the Lord spoke to me, “Get up and go into Damascus. And there it will be told to you all the things that have been appointed for you to do.” 11 As I was blinded from the glory of that light, I was being hand-led by my companions and came to Damascus.
Paul repeats this testimonial two other times: Acts 9 and 26. Here I try to harmonize the three accounts in v. 9.
This is a little glimpse of heaven, which the Father allowed. If we were to go up into heaven right now with our unresurrected, untransformed bodies, we would be overwhelmed. Blinded. Knocked flat.
Glory is related to light, two attributes of God. See the post Do You Really Know God? He Is Glorious
Jesus fully identifies with his church. Saul / Paul had been persecuting the church / body of Christ. It’s wonderful—full of wonder—to believe that Jesus identifies with you so deeply that when someone harms you, he harms Jesus. You are part of the body of Christ.
Acts 9:7 says the companions heard the voice, while here in 22:9 they did not hear the voice. Is this a contradiction? Not in the details. Paul uses the same word for voice or sound (phōnē, pronounced foh-nay, and yes, we get our word telephone from it), and he uses the same verb for hearing (akouō, pronounced ah-koo-oh, and yes, we get our word acoustics from it). In Acts 9:7, the companions hear a sound or voice, but here Paul says his companions did not hear a voice. But let’s not overinterpret the meaning. He is simply saying that his companions did not understand the entire event. It is a lot like the voice from heaven endorsing the Son of God (John 12:28), but the crowd thought it thundered or an angel spoke to him.
Scroll down to vv. 3-9.
And here is the same story again. Scroll down to vv. 10-18:
The NIV has translated 22:9 correctly with the word understand: “My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.”
Keener agrees: “In Acts 9:7, Paul’s companions receive only partial revelation, but here they do not even hear the voice (22:9), in contrast to 9:7. Since the verb can also mean ‘understand,’ it is possible that they heard a sound but not an intelligible one, just as they saw light (22:9 but not a person (9:7)” (p. 537).
Getting hung up on discrepancies like these and threatening to throw out the entire Bible is foolish and over-reactive. Your faith is too brittle.
Bock, as usual, is right:
Those present at the incident on the Damascus road saw a light but heard no voice, a probable reference to not comprehending rather than not hearing the voice, since 9:7 indicates a voice or at least a sound was heard. […] It is overinterpretation to suggest that 9:7 says that they did not see the light whereas he it says they did. All that is said here is that they did not see anyone. For those with Saul, there was neither an appearance nor revelation. The point is that the others knew something happened and that Saul did not have a merely inner, psychological experience. Those with Paul, however, did not know exactly what took place. (comment on vv. 9-11)
Where I inserted the ellipses (dots) Bock reminds us that the verb “hear” can take two different cases (accusative or genitive) and may have nuanced different meanings; however, we should not make too much of it because there are too many exceptions to the rule. That is, there is no hard, fast difference in meaning between the verb “hear” and the two cases. Bock’s larger point is right. It does not matter because the basic outcome is the same in Acts 9 and here in 22, namely, that those with Paul knew something significant had happened.
Including data points in one account
Omitting data points in another account
= Differences ≠ Contradiction
= Differences ≠ errors
I urge everyone to see the postmodern critics for who they are and not take them seriously. They turn molehills into mountains and require us to climb their mountain. Don’t “fall” for it.
Finally, I like what Keener further says: “Variations in ancient historians’ own works also suggest that most historians do not trifle over differences of minor detail. The point in any case is selective revelation (cf. 10:40-41 Dan 10:7)” (p. 537).
But more significantly than this quibble and quarrel among Bible scholars is the calling on Paul’s life. He illustrates repentance, apart from the theologians who nitpick the sequence: is it born again first and then faith? Or is it faith first and then born-again? The Bible does not present or demand such precision. Paul got knocked down a persecutor and got up a new man. Now he had to walk out or live out his new life.
“appointed”: it comes from the Greek verb tassō (pronounced as it looks), and its basic meaning is to “arrange,” “place,” “station,” or “assign,” and secondarily to “order, fix, determine, appoint.” Paul was called and had an assignment from the Father himself. Each one of us has our own assignment.
“hand-led”: it comes from the Greek verb cheiragōgeō (pronounced khay-rah-goh-geh-oh), and it combines the word cheir– (hand) and the second half means to lead around.
“glory of the light”: it can be translated as “the brightness of the light,” but the Greek is the standard noun for “glory.” Once again this shows that light and glory are connected.
See the post Do You Really Know God? He Is Glorious
As noted in v. 6, if we were to see the glory of God without our resurrected and transformed bodies and eyes, we would be knocked flat and blinded.
GrowApp for Acts 22:1-11
A.. Paul got knocked to the ground in his conversion story. Very dramatic. What is your conversion story? Was it quiet or dramatic or in between.
Ananias Prays for Paul (Acts 22:12-16)
12 A certain Ananias, a man very devout according to the law, attested by all the Jews living there, 13 came stood near me and said to me, “Brother Saul, get your sight back!” At that instant, I saw him. 14 He said, “The God of our fathers chose you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear the voice of his mouth, 15 because you shall be a witness for him to all men of the things you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized and be washed from your sins and call on his name!”
It is stunning that Christian outreach came to Damascus so soon after the resurrection, but persecution has a way of scattering the flock, where sheep will reproduce in other, new areas.
Ananias was a Messianic Jew, because he received Yeshua (Jesus) as his Messiah. Yes, Ananias was a mighty devout man, but he was at first scared to approach Saul / Paul.
Ananias simply commanded. He did not pray a flowery prayer: “O thou distant God way up in heaven! If only thou condescendest and darest to hear thy humble servant’s prayer! Pretty please, give thou Saul his sight back!” No. Other ways to translate the one Greek verb in the imperative mood is “Look up!” “Recover your sight!” “See again!”
This healing was instant. Sometimes it is not (Mark 8:22-26).
“chose”: it comes from the interesting verb procheirizō (pronounced pro-khay-ree-zoh), combining the prefix pro– (before, in front of) and cheir– (hand), so it could be translated literally as “prehandpicked.” Originally and literally, people voted by raising (stretching out) their hand. In any case, God reached down his hand and anointed Paul to fulfill a mission. Yes, God has prehandpicked you also to do good works that he has appointed beforehand that you should do (Eph. 2:10).
Some theologians focus on words such as this and grind it into dust. They say that God prehandpicks some, but not everyone. However, God wants everyone to be saved and come to repentance (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Yet some simply resist God’s call and can resist it throughout their lives. Human freewill is God’s gift to humanity, and freewill is strong. Humans cannot strut into God’s kingdom without a call in some form (even a dream) and a drawing by the Spirit towards God, but they have enough freewill to say no.
A sound alternative translation of “prehandpicked” is “appointed.”
“know”: the verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). The verb is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. (Its cognate epiginōskō, pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh is used 44 times).
“The Righteous One”: this is Jesus. He is righteous in the same degree that the Father was. Jesus shares this attribute with the Father, while Jesus was on earth. The term has a Messianic designation: Acts 3:14; 22:14; 1 John 2:1; Luke 23:47; Matt. 27:19, 24; and in the OT: 2 Sam. 23:3; Is. 32:1; 53:11; Zech. 9:9. In literature outside the Bible it is the same: 1 Enoch 38:2 and 46:3. In Is. 53:11, the servant of the Lord will be the righteous one. All in all, this is high Christology.
See my post: Do I Really Know God? He Is Righteous and Just.
Paul was called to see him and hear him. Paul writes that others saw the resurrected Lord, but Paul saw him last of all, and last does not mean the visitations were closed, because he got more of them (1 Cor. 15:3-9).
Renewalists believe that all believers can see Jesus, either in dreams or visions or in person. But the main warning is that you have to surrender your dream or vision or personal visit to Scripture. It has stood the test of time for two thousand years; you have not. It is inspired in a special way; you are not. It is infallible; you are not. If you are prone to receive visions, stay in a Bible-based church and check them out with the Bible-educated leaders and Bible-educated, trusted laity.
“hear the voice of his mouth”: it could be translated as “hear words from his mouth.” That is, Paul’s teaching came from revelations from the Lord. His gospel was founded on Christ, even though he was not an earlier follower of Jesus during is ministry.
Paul saw and heard revelations about Jesus. Personally, I have no doubt that he learned from Jesus himself that the law was fading away and salvation came through faith alone and grace alone. Yes, he also studied Scriptures, as we see in Rom. 4, but Jesus launched him down this road. Recall that the resurrected Jesus spent a lot of time telling the two disciples the history of the Bible through the Messianic eyes (Luke 24:27). Jesus did the same with Paul in one of his visions.
The verbs are in the middle voice, so they could be translated “get yourself baptized and get yourself washed from your sins.” No, Paul did not self-baptize, but Ananias led the way into the water.
Conversion first. Water baptism second. Water does not save, but Jesus does. Salvation goes beyond initial justification or initially being declared righteous. It involves one’s whole life. And being water-baptized for the washing away of sins means that water symbolically washes away one’s sins.
Bruce is right: “But first he must get himself baptized, as the outward and visible sign of his inward and spiritual cleansing from son. And in the act of being baptized his invocation of Jesus as Lord would declare the dominant power in his life henceforth” (comment on vv. 13-16).
“name”: this noun stands in for the person—a living, real person. You carry your father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, under the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
GrowApp for Acts 22:12-16
A.. Ananias, acting as a friend and witness, led Paul to the Lord. Did you have a friend who led you to the Lord? Have you been this friend to someone else?
Paul’s Vision in the Temple (Acts 22:17-21)
17 And it happened that I returned to Jerusalem, and while I was praying in the temple, I was in a trance 18 and saw him speaking to me: “Hurry up. Leave Jerusalem quickly because they shall not receive your witness about me.” 19 And I said, “Lord, they themselves know that I was in synagogue after synagogue imprisoning and beating those believing in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen, a witness for you, was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and keeping the clothes of the ones killing him.” 21 But he said to me, “Go! I shall send you away, far to the Gentiles!”
“praying”: it is the very common verb proseuchomai (pronounced pros-yew-khoh-my) and appears 85 times in the NT. The noun proseuchē (pronounced pros-yew-khay) is used 36 times, so they are the most common words for prayer or pray in the NT. They are combined with the preposition pros, which means, among other things, “towards,” and euchē, which means a prayer, vow and even a mere wish. But Christians took over the word and directed it towards the living God. I like to believe that they leaned in toward him and prayed their requests fully expecting an answer. It is not a mere wish or heartfelt payer to a pagan deity.
Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24; Rom. 8:1); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we pray with our Spirit-inspired languages and our native languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). But that’s what all believers should do; however, too often theory outruns practice. Pray! For a theology on how to respond when God does not answer our prayers, as when James was executed by Herod, see Acts 12 ***** and the very Observations for Discipleship section.
Prayer can be (1) for oneself, like overcoming sins and vices in your heart and mind or receiving wisdom from above (James 3:17) and not being double-minded about receiving it (Jas. 1:5-8), but (2) it is also for the needs of the community. It was coming under attack, so prayers were offered. Praying for boldness to reach out and spread the word is wonderful. We should do it more often. (3) Further, prayer brings down the manifest presence of God. God is omnipresent (everywhere) of course, but his presence can make itself felt and experienced. God showed up and shook the place where they were gathered.
Prayer can be visualized like a pebble in a pond, and the ripples go outward. (1) It starts with oneself and one’s needs; (2) then it goes outward to one’s own family and (3) to the Christian community (your home church). (4) It goes out to evangelism and the needs of the world around the community, (5) and finally to parts around the globe. But this prayer here in Acts varies the order, which you may do, if you like. Prayer is ultimately and most deeply a conversation with God.
“trance”: the noun ekstasis (pronounced ehk-stah-seess) literally means “standing outside (oneself).” It befell him; he did not ginger it up or use soul power.
Renewalists believe this still happens.
Sometimes it is the better part of valor and prudence to leave town (get out of Dodge, so to speak) and not stay there and be hounded and possibly killed. Jesus said to flee during persecution (Matt. 10:23).
Saul (Paul) had been beating the Messianic Jews. No doubt it was similar to what he was about to receive from the Romans and what he did receive five times from the Jews in the synagogues (2 Cor. 11:23). Paul in effect is saying, “They know my testimony. I used to be like them—even worse! Surely you want me stay in the holy city and testify about my before-and-after-pictures. Before: I persecuted the Messianic Jews. After: I am one!”
It is amusing how Paul—a knowledgeable Pharisee (or ex-Pharisee)—could argue with his Lord. People with high intelligence believe that they can argue with the omniscient Lord. They don’t realize they will always lose! Just surrender now. He won’t budge.
“believing”: it could be translated as “believe in you.” The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Here it is connected to “saved.”
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
And sure enough, Jesus did not budge. He commanded Paul without discussion: “Go!” It is a never a good idea to argue with the risen Lord. You won’t win.
Here is the original story:
28 And so he went with them around Jerusalem, boldly proclaiming in the name of the Lord. 29 He was both speaking and debating with Hellenist Jews, but they were trying to arrest him to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30)
In Chapter 22, here, Paul says he went to the Gentiles, so no doubt when he went home to Tarsus, he ministered to Gentiles, as well as his Jewish family and community.
GrowApp for Acts 22:17-21
A.. Sometimes your testimony about salvation can be received, other times not so. How have you used wisdom to share your walk with Christ in some contexts and remained silent in others?
Paul Is Whisked Away and Almost Flogged (Acts 22:22-30)
22 They were listening up to that word, and raised their voices, saying, “Away with such a man from the earth! He is not fit to live!” 23 They were shouting and flinging their robes and throwing dust up in the air.
24 The commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying to examine him by the whip, so that he would know the cause of why they were shouting at him in this way. 25 As they were stretching him out with straps, Paul said to the centurion standing by, “Is it permitted you to flog a Roman man without a guilty verdict?” 26 When the centurion heard that, he went to the commander and announced, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.”
27 The commander approached and said to him, “Tell me. Are you Roman?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 And the commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a lot of money.” Paul said, “I was born one.” 29 Instantly then those who were stretching him out backed away. And the commander was afraid, finding out that he was Roman and had chained him.
30 The next day, intending to find out exactly why he was accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the high council to gather and brought Paul down and stood him before them.
“that word”: the word Gentiles. He was (falsely) accused of bringing a Gentile into the holy place of the temple, and the whipped-up crowd of extra-devout fanatical Jews reacted to this word.
They were either tearing off their clothes or flinging them, according to the Greek word. Both are true. They tore and flung them. It was a scene of religious fanaticism.
Remember that Paul was speaking in Hebrew, and the Roman commander understood not a word of it. He must have been shocked when the crowd, so peaceful and quiet before, turned fanatical with shouts and physical displays. So naturally he wanted to get the truth out of Paul. But how? Examining someone by the ferocious whip—not the rods—is based on the unjust theory that someone would not tell the truth unless it was beaten out of him.
“know”: it is the verb epiginōskō (pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard as in “get,” and it is used 44 times in the NT). In any case here are the basic meanings, depending on the context: (1) “know exactly, completely”; “know again, recognize”; “acknowledge’; (2) “know, learn, find out, ascertain; notice; perceive, learn of; understand, know, learn to know.” Here it is the second definition.
Paul’s question, rather than a flat statement (“it is unjust to whip a Roman citizen with a guilty verdict!”), is amusing, though the lived-out scene for him was not amusing at all. I have heard from Messianic Jews that they grew up in households that asked questions.
But more important than that historical tidbit, don’t be afraid to claim your rights. Sometimes extra-devout Christians say Christians don’t have rights. Just surrender. But Paul would disagree.
Bruce points out that if the scourge was going to be the flagellum, it may have killed crippled him because it consisted of leather thongs weighted with rough pieces of metal or bone (comment on v. 24). Fortunately, he was a Roman citizen, so he was legal exempt.
It was a fearful thing for the authorities if they were to chain and flog a Roman citizen without a trial and guilty verdict. In this case the commander had chained him and almost flogged him.
“backed away”: suddenly the soldiers about to carry out the order to flog Paul treated him as if he were radioactive. Very amusing image to see them back off—but again not amusing for Paul at the time! It was a relief for him.
“The area was probably the Gabbatha, a stone pavement in the fortress that also served as a central courtyard. Williams (1990: 38) notes that Jesus was probably scourged here as well” (comments on vv. 25-29). Paul had persecuted the followers of Jesus and ordering them whipped, and Jesus told him that Saul was persecuting him—Jesus. Now Paul was about to be flogged where Jesus was. The irony!
“finding out”: see v. 24 for more comments.
The Roman commander told Paul that he had paid a lot of money for his Roman citizenship. Bruce teaches us that he bribed intermediaries in the imperial secretariat of the provincial administration to put his list of names in the list of candidates for enfranchisement (comment on vv. 26-28). The commander’s name was Claudius, so he got his citizenship under the emperor of that name, who ruled from AD 41-54.
“find out”: see v. 14 for more comments.
“accused”: the verb is katēgoreō (pronounced kah-tay-gor-eh-oh), and it combines the prefix kata– (down) and the verb agoreuō (pronounced ah-gor-ew-oh), so the context is in public, specifically in the synagogue here. The verb agoreuō means “to speak in the assembly, harangue, speak ill of someone” (Liddell and Scott). Combine it with the prefix and you get “speak down to” or just “accuse.”
“high council”: this is the Sanhedrin or Jewish supreme court, which I translate as high council in other passages. They did not have the power of death or execution, for this was reserved to Roman jurisdiction, except when someone violated the sanctity of the temple. In that case even a Roman citizen could be put to death by the Sanhedrin (Acts 21:28), if the people had not already stoned him to death before then.
Jews had lots of rights in their own country, but the Roman commander would not allow a Roman citizen to suffer unjustly. So he ordered armed guards to escort and be in the courtroom, to protect Paul.
Pronouns “he”: Paul was accused; and the commander released him.
I like Bock’s summary of the entire passage:
One danger of a longtime practice or belief that has established itself as a tradition is that it can undercut the faith that it is supposed to support. The unwillingness of Paul’s opponents to consider how God’s recent activity relates to God’s promise and program has made them unwilling and unable to respond to a hope designed for them. This is tradition gone bad. It created blindness and stubbornness, a deadly combination. (p. 665)
GrowApp for Acts 22:22-30
A.. Paul appealed to his civil rights—his rights as a citizen. Have your heard about some hero who appealed to his or her civil rights?
B.. How does he or she inspire you? Or maybe you have done this. If so, tell your story.
Observations for Discipleship
Eph. 2:8-10 says:
8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this not out of yourselves, but the gift of God, 9 not out of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared before, so that we walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)
We have been called and appointed, every bit as deeply as Paul was—though our calling is not identical with his. We are designed to do what God has pre-prepared for us to do, and no one else can do those good works exactly has we can do—maybe within a range someone else can do our good works if we refuse to do them. For example, we may be called as evangelist in a certain corner of the world, and if we say no, God will raise up someone else. How sad! He called us, and we would do things with little nuances that our replacement could not demonstrate, but God is faithful, so he will still see people saved through another evangelist.
You are no accident. You have a purpose set before you by God himself. As one famous book says, you have a “purpose-driven life.” You will never be fully satisfied and completely happy unless you walk in God’s purpose. He knows how you are made and what will make you happy and give you joy. Please don’t miss his calling!
But what if you do miss that specific one? Then God’s Plan A, which you missed, will become his new Plan A for you. He can redeem your life and make your life equally complete and satisfactory. If you miss being an evangelist in that corner of the world, then God has another corner for you. Fret not! Don’t be condemned! God is so much God and so fills the universe that he can transform you to fulfill you to be happy in his new corner of the world.
That’s what his “workmanship” means, and yes, we get our word poem from it. Your life is still being poeticized and created. God’s poem—you yourself—are still being written. Hang in there, while God holds on to you. Peace!
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.