Paul, Romans and Legal Rights

Acts 22:22-29

As Paul addressed the mob, things went along for a short time in calm, and then he mentioned taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the mob went wild, demanding Paul’s murder. The Roman commander ordered Paul taken into the barracks where he ordered Paul to be interrogated.

At this point in the story, it is interesting to note that in the Roman worldview, the victim of a violent attack by a mob is arrested and interrogated, while the perpetrators of the violence are not; obviously this Paul guy did something, let’s make him tell us what he did.

Paul was to be encouraged to be forthcoming by flogging. This was the same kind of thing done to Jesus before His crucifixion; Paul was stripped naked, and his hands were tied to the top of a high post. If the post was high enough, his feet would actually have been off the ground, and then he would be struck repeatedly with a leather whip that was weighted down on the ends with bits of bone and rock that would rip his flesh apart… while being asked questions. This would have been by far the most severe torture he had ever endured up to this point, and it would likely result in lifelong injury or death if it went on long enough.

I have often been accused of having a rather odd sense of humor, and with that in mind I tell you that what happens next strikes me as one of the funniest scenes in all of Scripture; there is naked Paul tied to this post, his feet probably off the ground, and he asks a question…

“Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (22:25b)

The centurion who was tasked with getting a confession from Paul got a bit of a shock with that innocent little question and went straight to his commander, who received a shock of his own, and went directly to Paul:

The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. (22:27-28)

The commander’s comment in 22:28 can be taken more than one way, but for me it looks like kind of an insult, as though he were saying that he had to pay a lot to become a citizen and now anybody can be a citizen. Whatever was going through his mind, Paul had the higher status, having been born a citizen. Notice that the men who were about to commit a serious crime got out of that room “immediately” and Luke tells us the commander himself was “alarmed”− this had been a close call for all concerned.

Now the Roman commander had a call to make: What was he going to do with Paul? We’ll find that out next time…

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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9 Responses to Paul, Romans and Legal Rights

  1. “At this point in the story, it is interesting to note that in the Roman worldview, the victim of a violent attack by a mob is arrested and interrogated, while the perpetrators of the violence are not; obviously this Paul guy did something, let’s make him tell us what he did.”

    Not so unusual. These days we do the same with bullying victims. When the victim has had enough and strikes back then we lock up the victim and provide counseling to the bullies.

    • Don Merritt says:

      “and strikes back” being the key.

      • I’ve been there. You get to a point where you have no other option, or at least feel that way. Everyone knows what is going on, but nobody does anything about it, including teachers, admins, and other students. Turning the other cheek doesn’t work. If someone tortured you every day, and no one was willing to help, would you just stand there and do nothing, just allow it to continue, day after day for years?

        • Don Merritt says:

          If you’re asking me… somebody would have gotten their butt kicked… but then I was an unusual case. 🙂 Through middle school I was usually the biggest and strongest kid there- an athlete and a nerd with his nose in a book… which isn’t really the recipe for popularity since I didn’t fit in anywhere. I’d take it for a while and then someone would get hurt. Yet I’d also step in to defend other kids who were picked on and counldn’t defend themselves. Most of those thanked me by throwing me under the bus after that… I really hated school!

          • Citizen Tom says:

            I discovered the problem with school when I went to college. The difference was profound. A good percentage of the kids in high school don’t want to be there. So they amuse themselves by tormenting the loners. Since I was a military brat and went to four different schools, had too much experience with that. It too me awhile to figure out how to deal with it, but I simply did not back down. Bullies are cowards, jealous cowards. They gain status by destroying others.

            When I went to college the bullying stopped. College students are to busy to fool with such nonsense. I still did not have a gift for fitting in with the crowd, but no one had the interest in being a bully. So I went about my business, happy others were doing the same.

            Education is a privilege. When we treat being educated as a right, we don’t have much success educating those who do care to learn. We just make life more difficult for those who do want to learn.

            The Apostle Paul spread the Gospel during an age when pride was elevated, when everyone was status conscious. When Paul persecuted the Christians, what was the point? Was it about serving God or Saul. When Paul was persecuted, what was the point? Was it about serving God?

  2. This is a great story. Imagine the shock from his question. I’ve always struck at the cleverness of it all.

    Be blessed.

  3. Pingback: Paul, Romans and Legal Rights — The Life Project | Talmidimblogging

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