Acts 23:1-11

Read the text here: Acts 23:1-11.

Showdown with the Sanhedrin! Paul begins his remarks with the assertion that he has lived his life in good conscience (literally, living as a good citizen), a continuation of his self-portrayal before the crowds the day before. He is abruptly interrupted by a vitriolic outburst from the high priest Ananias, who orders Paul to be slapped in the face. “Them’s fightin’ words” so to speak, and now Paul shifts into attack mode, turning the threat of a physical slap into a reciprocal verbal slap, “God will slap you down, you white-washed wall.” Paul accuses the high priest of being all talk and no substance, much like Jesus condemns the Pharisees as “white-washed tombs” (Luke 11:37-44).

At this the bystanders jump into the fray, defending the honor of the high priest, and asking Paul why he would mock a representative of God. Paul responds, “I did not know that he was the High Priest.” I think Paul’s response to them can best be understood as an ironic retort rather than a case of Paul not recognizing Ananais. Paul may be saying, “The way he was acting I would never have know that he was the High Priest!” (see Acts by Luke Timothy Johnson, p. 397.)

Paul’s next move is to deflect the argument away from the original accusation of disrupting the Temple and onto the issue of resurrection (Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and the Sadducees did not). A smart rhetorical move. Now the council is divided among themselves, and Paul stands on the sidelines watching the argument erupt into violence. The Roman captain fears for Paul’s life, and once again, Paul is rescued by the Roman authorities who take him back into custody.

Our story ends with a vision. Paul has done well in Jerusalem, but it is not yet over.
The Lord will now send him to Rome.


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