Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 23:23-30

Paul Sent to Felix the Governor

23 Then he called two of the centurions and said, “Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea at the third hour of the night.[a] 24 Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.” 25 And he wrote a letter to this effect:

26 “Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. 28 And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”

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In last week’s reading, Paul’s young nephew informed the Roman tribune of the Sanhedrin’s plot to murder Paul. The Jewish leaders involved had taken an oath to not eat or drink anything until they had accomplished their evil deed.

The tribune decided to despatch Paul at 9 p.m. to Caesarea in Gentile territory (verse 23). Students of Acts will know this was the town where Cornelius — a centurion and the first Gentile convert — lived.

Paul received ‘first class’ transportation, as John MacArthur describes (emphases mine):

Caesarea was a Gentile-dominated town and a Gentile-dominated territory. And, there was less likelihood of a real problem, or revolution, or an assassination. So, he calls his forces in verse 23. ““He called to him two centurions.” Each of those, of course, would be commanding 100 men. “Make ready 200 soldiers to go to Caesarea.”

So, each man would take the 100 troops that were under him, and this is the heavily armed infantry. The Roman armies moved in three parts. First of all, the heavy-armed infantry. These would be the guys with the swords and the shields who could set up the defense – the phalanx – where they would line up with shields, and this would be the front-line kind of thing. And, this was really an armed group.

Then, “In addition to that, 70 horsemen.” This is the cavalry. Important in Roman armies that they had the cavalry.

The third thing, 200 – and the Greek says “graspers by the right hand,” 200 graspers by the right hand. But, it’s translated here “spearmen.” Obviously, you know, it would be difficult to say, “All right, all you graspers by the right hand; fall out.” What it means is “javelin throwers,” the men who carried the javelin. This is the light-armed troops.

Very often, as the army moved, the cavalry might be reconnaissance or flank troops. The heavy-armed would be out front, and the spearmen in the back throwing these javelins. And so here [are] 470 soldiers armed to the gills to escort one apostle out of town. You know, when the providence of God goes into action and God takes care of His saints, they usually go first-class.

Verse 24 tells us that Paul received his own mount — steed — which must have been a luxury for him as he travelled on land by foot.

Why was the Roman tribune going to such an extent to transport Paul out of Jerusalem?

There were two reasons.

First, this was at the time when the Jews in Jerusalem were becoming restless about Roman rule in general. MacArthur says this took place in 61 AD, nine years before the destruction of the temple. Any further disorder in the city — another riot over Paul — could have landed the tribune in hot water with his superiors, to say the least. The Romans expected their leaders in other territories to maintain orderly rule.

Secondly, with regard to Paul specifically, the tribune knew he had treated him wrongly, binding him up for scourging, which was against the law as far as Roman citizens were concerned. The tribune could have lost his position, were it ever discovered by his superiors.

Of course, the tribune wanted to protect his own position, and this passage describes how he did it. He sent an interesting letter to Felix the governor (verse 25).

He began the letter by announcing himself by name (verse 26). Although the name of Claudius Lysias has appeared in my past few posts, this is the first time Luke identifies the tribune as such.

Our commentators differ in concluding how Luke knew the tribune’s name.

MacArthur says it was divine inspiration:

What is interesting about it is this: Luke records for us this letter verbatim.

You say, “What is interesting about that?” Luke never read it. Now, you know what I’m saying? This is a good illustration of divine inspiration. The Spirit of God told Luke, by the miracle of revelation, the words of that letter, and he wrote them down with his own hand. That’s inspiration in the Bible. That’s how the whole Bible has been written – the inspiration of God; verbal inspiration. And incidentally, the letter was probably written in Latin, so the Spirit of God had to give it to Luke in Greek. But the Spirit does well at translation, believe me.

On the other hand, Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Luke accompanied Paul out of Jerusalem with the Roman troops and could have had a copy of the letter:

This letter is here inserted totidem verbis–verbatim, Acts 23:25. It is probable that Luke the historian had a copy of it by him, having attended Paul in this remove.

There is no right or wrong answer, because we have no way of knowing what happened. Personally, I agree with Henry, because Luke had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for Pentecost.

Claudius Lysias covered his tracks by saying that he rescued Paul from the baying mob for his protection, having learned he was a Roman citizen (verse 27). The reality was that he had Paul bound for scourging until Paul informed him he was a free-born Roman citizen. Interestingly, Claudius Lysias had purchased his own citizenship.

The tribune said that he sent Paul to the Sanhedrin to find out more (verse 28). As he discovered their vehement objection to Paul was based on a point of Jewish law, it was nothing that deserved death or imprisonment under Roman law (verse 30).

Claudius Lysias concluded by saying he discovered the plot to murder Paul, and, thereby requested that Felix put Paul before the Sanhedrin so that he could find out what the specific accusations are (verse 30).

Claudius Lysias pushed the matter upward to his immediate superior.

Paul was living through a trial situation similar to Jesus’s own, as MacArthur explains:

Jesus went to Pilate first and Pilate pushed Him up to Herod. And here, Claudius Lysias, the commander, doesn’t want to side. He wants him out of town, in protection, really, for his life and for Claudius’ position; and, he wants to turn him over to Felix and let him deal with it.

John MacArthur laid out four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation.

If one can think of it as such, this dramatic episode will now move from conquest to consolation. The Romans, again under divine intervention, moved Paul securely out of Jerusalem to a Gentile area, where he would be safe.

Next time — Acts 23:31-35

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