The Sarcastic Citizen of Citizens, Tried by Brethren, Rescued by Romans

Acts 23:1-11

And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And 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.’ ” But perceiving that one part 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!” And as he said this, there arose 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. And there arose 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. 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.”

I am not sure why the high priest had Paul struck on the mouth. But if I had to make an educated guess, my hypothesis would be because he assumed that Paul was committing blasphemy. Because Paul spoke, and said that he lived before God with a good conscience, and he was struck on the mouth, not the nose, head, ears or any other body part, I suspect that the high priest assumed that Paul was blaspheming, or at minimum, just wanted him to shut up. While we don’t know if the high priest was present when Paul claimed that God had sent him to the gentiles, we certainly can reasonably assume that he was told about it and would then consider what Paul said to the council as blasphemy. Yet I am unsure, therefore I researched the traditions of the times. What I uncovered is astounding but it is extra-biblical, therefore it must be taken with a grain of salt, metaphorically speaking.

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers debate whether or not Paul actually knew that Ananias was the high priest. Honestly, it seems like he would have. While time has certainly passed since his days as a Pharisee, it would be extremely odd for Paul to not understand his cultural context of being before the council. Logically, Paul would have assumed that the high priest would have been the one to order him to be struck on the mouth. Yet, Paul, after famously and prophetically saying, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!” He seems to back away from this statement by quoting the Law. “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.’” However I don’t think that Paul was backing off at all. I admit that my mind was triggered by extra-biblical sources but that only made me look closer at the context.

Paul knows the Law and he points this out by his retort to the people; remember that. Paul spoke and was illegally struck on the mouth, ordered by the man Ananias. Since we know that Paul wouldn’t lie to save his own neck, because we take the long view and have seen him beaten and stoned before, and because we have heard Paul say to his companions that he is willing to die in Jerusalem, we are left wondering how Paul would not have known that he was the high priest. Look closely at what Paul said in the middle of this exchange; “And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” Remember that Paul was a Pharisee who knew the procedures and precedents of trying a man. Look at the words: “do you Sit and try me according to the Law?” Who else but the high priest would order Paul to be struck, so that Paul would be struck, who also sits and tries according to the Law? Paul, if nothing else but based on the context, would know that this Ananias was the high priest. Honestly, it looks like Paul was lying, on the surface. Even some pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers link Paul’s alleged lie to that of Rahab’s in Jericho about the two spies. That is, it’s a justifiable lie. But we know that is not the case. Paul is ready to die and has always told the truth.

Many other pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers are more in line with my approach. They know that Paul wouldn’t lie to save his own neck and carefully consider the context. They see that the high priest ordered Paul struck against the Law of Moses and therefore Paul was calling him out as not being a true high priest because he breaks the Law. I believe that this approach is very close but falls a little short. Paul preaches the New Covenant, even to Israel in this overlapping of the New Covenant age and the Judaic age. It would be unprecedented for him to judge Ananias over one, single, bad move–we have never seen it before–Paul always takes the proverbial high road and dusts off his sandals when persecuted. Especially when we consider the statement that got Paul struck. “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” This is an odd statement; to be struck over, and to say. Paul was two completely different people. First, a persecutor of the Way and now its biggest proponent. We have to understand all of this context in their current cultural climate. And thus far, we have done it without any extra-biblical sources. For now, I’d like to keep it that way and let the context unfold, other than to say that Ananias was notorious in his day. He is mentioned in history books other than the book of Acts.

Part of considering the context is determining the author’s aspirations to his audience and remembering the genre. Since we know that Luke is writing a historical narrative, not long after this event, and because Ananias was notorious, the person of Theophilus, or the people of Theophilus would have known about Ananias. Therefore Luke doesn’t delve into much detail. To prove that the book of Acts was written soon after this scene, we take our vitamin E and simply read to the end of the book and see that only a few years have passed from now until then. This is why we utilize a hermeneutical tool called the CAGED method, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Daily Bible study is extremely important, otherwise we only know what we have been taught. And even if everything that we have been taught is correct, we still need to supplement it with our own studies.

We understand the “why” of Luke not delving deep into the details but is it possible for us to see his aspiration to his audience without these details? I would argue that it is, simply by taking our Vitamins; C, A, G, E and D. A little vitamin E and we see that Paul was well trained in the Judaic religion. Of himself Paul says, “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Even today Paul quotes the Law to the people present. Beyond any semblance of a shadow of a doubt, Paul knew that the high priest would preside over his trial. Put it all together and it looks like Paul was lying when he said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest.” But this is not the end of the story; it isn’t even the beginning.

For review: there is much speculation from pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers concerning Paul’s statement. Some think he told a righteous lie to save his neck but I don’t see that. Though I do agree with them that Paul had to have known that Ananias was at least acting in some way, other than ordering Paul to be struck as the high priest. Others however, believe that the “thorn” in Paul’s side was partial blindness, possibly a result from his blinding by Jesus before regaining partial sight from another Ananias. Therefore he wouldn’t have recognized this Ananias in a bit of irony, as sitting in the judgement seat of the high priest. Cute story but the context clearly contradicts this. Paul said; “do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” From this statement alone, even without Paul’s history of a Pharisee, it is contextually clear that Paul knew that Ananias at least claimed to be the high priest. This gives credence to those pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers who claim that Paul understood that Ananias thought of himself as the high priest but neither Paul nor God, views him as such. But again, I take it one step further. We carefully consider the context here, therefore let’s zoom in, remembering the long view and Paul’s history as a Pharisee.

“And Paul, looking intently [hard to believe Luke would write this if Paul was partially blind] at the Council [which is headed by the high priest], said, ‘Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.’ And the high priest,  Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And 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.”‘ But perceiving that one part 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!’ And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.”

Paul’s statement is steeped in sarcasm. Consider the context; Paul knows who presides over a trial, Paul is not going to lie to save his neck and Paul does not back down from his statement. Notice that Paul never takes the statement back and doesn’t apologize. That’s because he isn’t apologizing. Paul’s statement is seething with sarcasm and it is clearly seen because of what is not seen. Again, we don’t see an apology. In fact, we see the exact opposite of an apology. Paul is not walking back his statement–far from it. He’s actually emphasizing his statement and pointing out the hypocrisy. Notice; “And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And 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.”‘”

Paul does not say, “I am sorry, I didn’t know he was the high priest. If I had known, I never would have said it, because it is written ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.'” But Paul does not recant what he said, in fact, he does the exact opposite. Look closely at the exchange again; Paul is unlawfully ordered to be srtuck on the mouth by the high priest; “‘God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And 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.”‘” Since Paul absolutely understood that they thought he was the high priest, and since he did not apologize or take his statement back, clearly Paul is challenging Ananias’ authority as high priest. Do you see it? Paul is striking back at Ananias after being struck on the mouth. If we would read the Bible as it was written, we would read this passage and laugh. Paul is not stupid or a liar, therefore he is absolutely calling ou the high priest. “But Russell P, how is that possible if Paul quotes, ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE?'” That’s exactly the calling out. Paul says that he would never speak evil of a ruler of the people. But he did, right? Did Paul not say seconds before he quotes the Law, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” He did and he doesn’t take it back but emphasized,  “YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.” Paul is explaining, quite sarcastically, that he did not speak evil of a ruler of the people because he doesn’t consider Ananias as the high priest.

We get confused by Paul’s statement of “unaware.” But considering the context and examples, we know that he had to have been “aware.” Therefore, since we also know that Paul wouldn’t lie, he has to be pointing out the illegitimacy of Ananias’ position of high priest. Given the long view and the context, it is the only explanation. And, taking a long view, seeing the sublime string and considering the greater context, this can’t be a new belief, based upon his striking of Paul. There has to be a history of which Luke doesn’t record, because it would have been common knowledge at the time. The context confirms this but we have the ability to double check through secular scholars and historical records.

Albert Barnes, in his Notes on the Bible, paraphrases Josephus, Antiquities, book 20, chapter 8, section 8;  “It was during this interval, while the office of high priest was vacant, that the events which are here recorded took place. Ananias was then at Jerusalem; and as the office of high priest was vacant, and as he was the last person who had borne the office, it was natural that he should discharge, probably by common consent, its duties, so far, at least, as to preside in the Sanhedrin. Of these facts Paul would be doubtless apprised; and hence, what he said Acts 23:5 was strictly true, and is one of the evidences that Luke’s history accords precisely with the special circumstances which then existed. When Luke here calls Ananias ‘the high priest,’ he evidently intends not to affirm that he was actually such, but to use the word, as the Jews did, as applicable to one who had been in that office, and who, on that occasion, when the office was vacant, performed its duties.”

Both the context of Acts and the historical records of Josephus harmoniously confirm that Ananias was a usurper of authority. The context continues to bear this out. Notice the quick division and the inability of Ananias to reign in the people. It is absolutely astonishing how the context clearly shows that Ananias was not a high priest at all, except in name. In a matter of seconds, he lost control, proving Paul correct, that he was unaware of not only Ananias being the high priest, but that they had a high priest at all. Watch how quickly and simply the fake high priest lost control and how quickly and simply Paul manipulated the men. And this all proves the cultural climate in Jerusalem at the time. The Council was in such chaos, they didn’t even have a high priest. Rome’s presence in the are is ever increasing and slowly, the council is losing control. Matthew 24 has begun and the Council is more and more divided and weakened.

“But perceiving that one part 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!’ And as he said this, there arose 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. And there arose 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.”

This is Jerusalem, the city of peace. With a few words, Paul gets himself punched and with a few more, he starts a riot. Can we at least agree that the context bears witness to the fact that Ananias was no high priest and that Paul was indigent? And rightfully so; how could Paul possibly get a fair trial considering the cultural context and climate of chaos and calamity? Things are falling  apart in Jerusalem, just like Jesus said. Paul percieved not only the actual and impending injustice but the atmosphere of division within their ranks. With absolute ease, Paul pitted the parties into their prospective partisan perspectives. It is now the Pharisees vs. the Sadducees. Nevertheless Paul is stuck in the middle. And once again, ironically enough, it is the Romans who step in to save Paul. And look closely at the statement made by the Pharisees; they were not understanding exactly what Paul was saying. Notice also, that it is actually Jesus behind the Romans saving Paul.

“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. 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.'”

This is a very big deal. The sublime string and continuing context of Acts, and expository exegesis of examples, enlighten us to exactly what is happening. If only the dogmatic dispensationalists would put as much time into the study of the book of Acts and history books as they do reading the headlines, they would see how easily their dogma about the future, actually fits into this historical narrative. Don’t get me wrong; history repeats itself, but many of the prophets’ promises are to this generation in the mid-first-century, specifically; especially those of Jesus, himself. Look closely at the confusion within the Judaic society–like the times of old, the ties that bind them are unraveling. Nevertheless, where are Paul’s defenders? What happened to the thousands of christians in the area? They are conspicuously absent. For sure and certain, they didn’t want to encite violence or start a war but they are nowhere to be found. Just like in the trial of Jesus, the disciples scatter during the trial of Paul. It’s Rome to the rescue and we must see this and understand it, because it is very similar to Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, in that all of these nations’ involvement with Israel prior, were promised, as is Rome’s. However there is a huge difference in that, these former countries were exile, but Rome was an extermination. Not of the people but of the Covenant they made with God. That’s right, the Covenant they made; they couldn’t follow God’s Covenant–no one could. After we read of the old Covenant coming to a close, and is about to disappear, we also read in Hebrews:

“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Context is king; the author of Hebrews is, as Jesus has, promising the toppling of the temple and the temporal shadows of Jesus. The Old Covenant is about to disappear and that’s why we see such division in Acts and it’s also why we see a fake high-priest. I would also argue that it is why the Christians have disappeared. They saw the signs and fled, a bit prematurely but still, having been warned by the apostles, they were not taking any chances. However, they jumped the gun, they left Paul alone in Jerusalem.

Taking the long view of Scripture we clearly see an overlap in the ages. The Christian Church exists but is in its infancy, while the Judaic covenant is crumbling–“ready to disappear.” Yet it is Rome that does the will of God. While utterly ironic, we have seen similar scenarios before. Only this time it is permanent. If we can’t see the foreshadowing of them using Rome to destroy the true temple of Jesus, as Jesus is about to use Rome to destroy their shadow of a temple, we should at least see what is written in Hebrews. And if we don’t see what is written in Hebrews, we should at least take Jesus at his word. And if we don’t take Jesus at his word, we should at least see the scenario of Paul in Jerusalem. And if we don’t see Paul’s scenario we should at least see what God promised in the prophets. And if we don’t see what God promised in the prophets we should look out our windows. Because even looking out our windows proves what Jesus promised; we simply take looking out our windows out of context as well. We don’t look at history. We don’t understand where we are in redemptive history. We think that the  technology that can get the gospel around the globe in seconds is the mark of the beast. In the same way that we thought Paul was apologizing to the great, benevolent, high priest, Ananias, when he was actually doing the opposite, we assume that everything is evil; yet we all use the technology. How hypocritical! Even many amish people use cell phones. When will we look at our surroundings and be thankful rather than angry? When will we see ourselves for who we really are? Almost 2000 years and we are still a church in its infancy. We have all of these creature comforts that were unheard of 100 years ago, much less 2000 years ago, which make missions more manageable, and even more effective, yet we think it’s of the devil. Was Rome invading Israel of the devil? Do we not lean on our own understanding?

On a similar side note, I have a simple question. Did Jesus not triumph over the devil? Jesus used Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Rome to do his bidding, he also used the devil; to test Job, to sift Peter, and to keep Paul humble. I don’t know where we get this sense that the Savior somehow struggles with Satan–He crushed his head! Actually, I do know where we get the idea that somehow Satan has dominion on this earth. First, we rip verses out of context and second, we are like our original parents, Adam and Eve, therefore we would rather blame-shift than take responsibility for our sins. Yes, Satan is alive and well but he is not the ruler of this world, he was the ruler of that age, the evil and perverse generation of Jesus. Yes, “this generation” as said by Jesus. Since we’re here, let’s go there, even though we have arrived here, from there.

Matthew 23:15; “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

John 8:44; “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

For more on this you can read my missives on Matthew or better yet, read Matthew for yourself using the CAGED method. But in closing today, I want to keep hammering away at our presuppositions and preconceived notions. I know that it is extremely difficult to convince a Democrat to become a Republican. How much more difficult is it to convince a person that they are mistaken about their faith? I am not trying to make converts to a Partial-preterism-nonliteral-postmillennial-idealistict-history-repeats-itself view of Revelation. But I am hoping to get people motivated to consider the context and learn for themselves. Paul is in pickle and we have to understand the cultural climate and see the sublime string. The best way to do that is by doing what we are doing; reading through the entire book of Acts, utilizing the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics.

 

 

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