After the scene in the torture chamber, the Roman commander must have gone to the Roman tribune, for he then summons the Sanhedrin into session and takes Paul before them in an effort to discover what Paul was being accused of. In spite of their brutality, it is difficult to accuse the Romans of being anything other than cunning in this scene, for their tactics have shifted in a fascinating way; they are now defending their citizen in a sense, and shifting the responsibility for the mob violence from the victim of the mob to the leaders of the people who had committed the violence. Remember that Luke has not mentioned that the Sanhedrin was behind the mob’s actions; it was some “Jews from Asia” who incited the crowd… Now, the Sanhedrin needs to give an account…
Paul begins his defense in 23:1. Isn’t that interesting; he hasn’t been accused of anything, in fact, the purpose of the meeting is to discover what the accusations are. Essentially, Paul makes a statement that in everything he has done; he has been a faithful servant of God.
Ananias became the high priest in 47 AD, and he was known to be extremely corrupt, according to the Jewish historian Josephus. When Ananias heard Paul’s statement, he ordered him struck in the mouth, in violation of the Law (Lev. 19:15):
“God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” (23:3)
Everyone was shocked that Paul would speak to the high priest in such a manner:
Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”
Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’” (23:4-5)
Interesting response from Paul; did he really not know he was addressing the high priest, dressed as he was in his judge’s costume, seated in the high priest’s special chair? We know Paul’s eyesight was poor, but did he really not know?
Three years ago I was a witness in a court case. I am legally blind, and I could not see the judge from where I was giving testimony, but when the judge asked me a question, I could hear where the voice had come from and I could tell that it wasn’t the attorney who was asking; I couldn’t see the attorney either, but I could tell. I don’t believe for a second that Paul didn’t know whom he was addressing… but no one would have known he was the high priest by his actions, since he was violating the law he was there to enforce, and thus I would have to suggest that Paul spoke with irony in this instance. Paul got one pop in the mouth, the high priest got two.
OK, the first part of the story is funny; the next part is hilarious…
In 23:6-10 we read that all Paul needed to do at this point is to say he had been attacked because he taught about the resurrection, and the Pharisees and Sadducees were at each-others’ throats. Nobody accused Paul of anything, and the Romans had to take Paul out of the now chaotic room by force… The scene ends with 23:11:
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
A little ways back we saw that Paul had been led by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem, and that the same Holy Spirit had been warning others that he would have a rough time of it when he got there, that he would be bound by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles, giving us a riddle: What was going on here, isn’t that a contradiction? This is the answer to the riddle; Paul would take the Gospel to the very heart of the Roman Empire as a result of this chain of events.