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Bible croppedThe 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 23:12-15

A Plot to Kill Paul

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”

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Last week’s entry was about the heated row the Pharisees and the Sadducees had over their faith beliefs, which Paul had purposely triggered.

The next day, however, the Sanhedrin’s focus returned to Paul. More than 40 plotted to kill him and went on a hunger strike until they accomplished their mission (verses 12, 13).

John MacArthur’s four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation. Last week’s verses showed the conflict. However, Paul saw some of the consolation, as our Lord stood beside him in prison (emphases mine):

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

The conflict continues this week with these plotters. Both our commentators say that Satan was working through them. Here is Matthew Henry’s analysis. Older translations use ‘curse’ instead of ‘oath’ in verse 12, which adds to the gravity of the sitaution:

(1.) They bound themselves to it. To incline to do evil, and intend to do it, is bad; but to engage to do it is much worse. This is entering into covenant with the devil; it is swearing allegiance to the prince of darkness; it is leaving no room for repentance; nay, it is bidding defiance to it. (2.) They bound one another to it, and did all they could, not only to secure the damnation of their own souls, but of theirs whom they drew into the association. (3.) They showed a great contempt of the providence of God, and a presumption upon it, in that they bound themselves to do such a thing within so short a time as they could continue fasting, without any proviso or reserve for the disposal of an overruling Providence. When we say, To-morrow we will do this or that, be it ever so lawful and good, forasmuch as we know not what shall be on the morrow, we must add, If the Lord will. But with what face could they insert a proviso for the permission of God’s providence when they knew that what they were about was directly against the prohibitions of God’s work? (4.) They showed a great contempt of their own souls and bodies; of their own souls in imprecating a curse upon them if they did not proceed in this desperate enterprise (what a woeful dilemma did they throw themselves upon! God certainly meets them with his curse if they do go on in it, and they desire he would if they do not!)–and of their own bodies too (for wilful sinners are the destroyers of both) in tying themselves out from the necessary supports of life till they had accomplished a thing which they could never lawfully do, and perhaps not possibly do. Such language of hell those speak that wish God to damn them, and the devil to take them, if they do not do so and so. As they love cursing, so shall it come unto them. Some think the meaning of this curse was, they would either kill Paul, as an Achan, an accursed thing, a troubler of the camp; or, if they did not do it, they would make themselves accursed before God in his stead. (5.) They showed a most eager desire to compass this matter, and an impatience till was done: not only like David’s enemies, that were mad against him, and sworn against him (Psalms 102:8), but like the servants of Job against his enemy: O that we had of this flesh! we cannot be satisfied, Job 31:31. Persecutors are said to eat up God’s people as they eat bread; it is as much a gratification to them as meat to one that is hungry, Psalms 14:4.

John MacArthur’s Bible also says ‘curse’. He explains:

They were serious about it as indicated by the fact that it says, “They bound themselves under a curse.”

The Greek is “they anathematized themselves with an anathema.” They devoted themselves to destruction. This was not an uncommon thing. They placed themselves under a divine judgment, as it were. They invoked the vengeance of God. It would go something like this: if any of the other Jewish vows would be similar to this, this would be a typical one, “So may God do to us and more, if we eat or drink anything until Paul is dead.”

Now, they were serious. They wanted this man dead, and the most stringent way they knew was to take this kind of a vow which sort of bound them and sort of told everybody the seriousness of it. And, they invoked the vengeance of God if they didn’t accomplish it. Of course, that’s dumb, because God may or may not be involved in it. That’s why Jesus said, “Swear not at all, don’t do that. Don’t say, ‘God, strike me dead if I don’t do this,’ or, ‘God do this if I don’t do that’.” Let your conversation be “yes and no” and forget that.”

Jesus said, “Swear not at all neither by Heaven or Earth.” But they were doing that, and they wanted to drag God into it and appear very holy. See? “We’ll kill him or God strike us dead,” feeling they were really going to defend God. They wanted God in on the murder plot …

You say, “Well, why would they react to such a man like this? Why not just say, ‘Oh, well. Let him go.’ Why so hostile? Why so violent?” Because of this, folks: to simplify it, they were the dupes of Satan, and that is the simplest way to look at it. They had been so subjected to the power of Satan by this time, existing so long in a false system of religion based on ego and hypocrisy, that they were Satan’s tools. And Satan wanted Jesus and the Gospel done away.

MacArthur tells us why 40+ were involved:

Well, apparently, they felt that the Romans would not bring about Paul’s death; they couldn’t procure the death at the hands of Rome. And, they realized that they didn’t want Paul in front of the people making another speech, or he might wind up persuading too many of them.

And so they saw they had to get rid of him, but they didn’t want any one individual to bear the brunt. So they realized if they had 40 or more (and that’s maybe an arbitrary figure; they may have called together all those who were interested), but if they had enough, no one person could be blamed for it. Plus, that many could accomplish it without Paul escaping. So they bound themselves by a blood oath, swearing to God that they would assassinate Paul, or they would be willing to take the vengeance of God, knowing all the time that they could get out of it.

They then went to the chief priests and elders stating that they had made this oath (verse 14), and what they expected Ananias and the elders to do: pretend they wanted to interview Paul further, and the conspirators would murder Paul when he approached (verse 15).

It is difficult imagining that going on in a religious setting, but MacArthur gives us the background to the Sanhedrin:

Now, the chief priests of the Sanhedrin were the Sadducees. The Sadducees party was the most antagonistic to Paul. Do you remember for what reason? Because Paul taught the resurrection and they were anti-resurrectionists. And so, these conspirators went to the leaders of the Sanhedrin, the top guys, and they said, “Look, we have bound ourselves under a great curse that we will not eat anything until we have slain Paul.”

Now, why would they bother to tell the Sadducees? Because they could get a hearing. They’d get somebody to listen to them who would agree, and they wanted to enlist the support of the Council.

It’s interesting, I think, to just note the fact that the conspirators, the 40-plus, knew that the leadership of Israel was so morally rotten that they were willing to advertise a murder. Can you imagine going and taking a group of murderers up to the Supreme Court and telling them that you’d like their cooperation in a murder?

Well, that’s part of it. But, they were not only the judicial heads of the country; they were the spiritual leaders, so corrupted that justice was corrupted, and spiritual truth was corrupted to the place where they could be enlisted in a murderous assassination. And they knew they’d get a hearing, and had no fears that they would be prosecuted for such a thing as attempted murder – or whatever.

Even knowing that, the plotters were bold as brass dictating to their superiors. What a den of vipers the Sanhedrin was.

Forbidden Bible Verses continues in the New Year.

Next time — Acts 23:16-22

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advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauDecember 15, 2018 is the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, because of its joyful themes in anticipating the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

On Gaudete Sunday, a traditional celebrant will wear a rose vestment to symbolise joy.

I wrote about this particular Sunday at length last year. Readers might find the origin of Gaudete Sunday — and the earlier beginning of Advent centuries ago — useful:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

This Advent, the beginning of the Church year, we are in Year C.

Most churches will probably only select one of the following readings — including the Epistle — followed by the Gospel.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Zephaniah foretells the deliverance of Israel and prophesies that salvation — via Jesus — is coming.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

3:15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

3:16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

3:17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

3:18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

3:19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

3:20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

Second reading

The reading from Isaiah is similar to that of Zephaniah in that God will grant His faithful eternal salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 12:2-6

12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Epistle

Paul exhorted the Philippians to be joyful, as the Lord was with them. Verse 4 is the default recessional blessing in Anglican — including Episcopalian — services, a favourite of mine.

Philippians 4:4-7

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel

The reading from Luke is about John the Baptist’s ministry in anticipation of Jesus, calling for repentance and charity, both of which characterise Advent.

Luke 3:7-18

3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

3:11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

3:13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Christmas nears. Joy increases in people’s hearts. The Christ Child is about to be born. The world will soon rejoice.

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 23:6-11

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

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Poor Paul. In last week’s entry Ananias the high priest illegally ordered him struck on the mouth — a painful punch or blow with a club or rod — for saying that he had lived his life in good conscience before God. The Sanhedrin then accused Paul of showing disrespect to Ananias, whom he said he did not recognise as the high priest. This was because they were hastily called to Fort Antonia and were not in their usual ceremonial robes. It could also be that Paul did not wish to recognise a scoundrel of a high priest and/or he was affected by bad eyesight, a real possibility.

Under Mosaic law, Paul was wrong and Ananias was wrong in equal measure. Both had violated the law of Jewish conduct.

I cited John MacArthur’s four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation. Last week’s verses showed the confrontation.

Today’s verses show the conflict as the tension briefly moves away from Paul to a dispute between the Pharisees, of which Paul was one, and the Sadducees, who were not at all spiritual in their theological outlook.

Matthew Henry summarises this beautifully (emphases mine):

Many are the troubles of the righteous, but some way or other the Lord delivereth them out of them all. Paul owned he had experienced the truth of this in the persecutions he had undergone among the Gentiles (see 2 Timothy 3:11): Out of them all the Lord delivered me. And now he finds that he who has delivered does and will deliver. He that delivered him in the foregoing chapter from the tumult of the people here delivers him from that of the elders.

Did Paul deliberately cause the division when he announced that he was a Pharisee to take the heat off himself (verse 6)? Matthew Henry answers in the affirmative:

The great council was made up of Sadducees and Pharisees, and Paul perceived it. He knew the characters of many of them ever since he lived among them, and saw those among them whom he knew to be Sadducees, and others whom he knew to be Pharisees …

So does John MacArthur:

So you know what Paul did? He just turned the whole Sanhedrin on itself. Revolution. Civil war. He just calmly stood there while they started the fight. You see, the real issue at stake was Paul had given his testimony, and Paul declared in his testimony that he was going down the Damascus Road and who spoke to him? Jesus of Nazareth. Well, if Jesus of Nazareth spoke to him, that meant Jesus of Nazareth was alive, right? So what was that saying? Resurrection.

Paul further triggered the Sadducees by mentioning that he believed in the resurrection of the dead, which the Pharisees did. With that, the quarrelling between the two religious groups began (verse 7).

Luke, the author of Acts, summarised the theological differences concisely (verse 8), so that the reader would understand.

The dissension escalated when some of the scribes — who were Pharisees — posited that Paul might have received a message from an angel or a spirit (verse 9). Hearing that enraged the Sadducees, who believed in neither. This does not mean that the scribes became Paul’s defenders after this: far from it, as we see in Acts 24. Despite this, Henry thinks that some of the Pharisees seriously thought about Paul’s defence of his faith:

We will hope that some of them at least did henceforward conceive a better opinion of Paul than they had had, and were favourable to him, having had such a satisfactory account both of his conversation in all good conscience and of his faith touching another world …

The arguments between the Sadducees and the Pharisees became so violent that the Roman tribune — commander — was concerned for Paul’s life, so he had his soldiers remove Paul by force and return him to the barracks (verse 10).

MacArthur sees this as providential:

The Romans to the rescue; the second time in two chapters. Amazing, God has superintended them. The whole of the nation of Israel is thrown into confusion, and he’s got the whole Roman army on the side of Paul.

As Henry points out, Paul was truly alone during this prolonged ordeal, with none of his Christian convert friends coming to his aid. Perhaps they were too afraid or perhaps they tried, but were not allowed admittance to see him:

The chief captain had rescued him out of the hands of cruel men, but still he had him in custody, and what might be the issue he could not tell. The castle was indeed a protection to him, but withal it was a confinement; and, as it was now his preservation from so great a death, it might be his reservation for a greater. We do not find that any of the apostles or elders at Jerusalem came to him; either they had not courage or they had not admission.

None of that mattered, because the Lord was with Paul. The next night He stood beside Paul and said that his work in Jerusalem was complete. Rome was to be the Apostle’s next destination in His Holy Name (verse 11): ‘Take courage’.

Henry provides this useful analysis:

Christ bids him have a good heart upon it: “Be of good cheer, Paul; be not discouraged; let not what has happened sadden thee, nor let what may yet be before thee frighten thee.” Note, It is the will of Christ that his servants who are faithful should be always cheerful. Perhaps Paul, in the reflection, began to be jealous of himself whether he had done well in what he said to the council the day before; but Christ, by his word, satisfies him that God approved of his conduct. Or, perhaps, it troubled him that his friends did not come to him; but Christ’s visit did itself speak, though he had not said, Be of good cheer, Paul.

In closing, MacArthur reminds us that our Lord revealed Himself to Paul five times in total. His awe-inspiring appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus was the first. This passage mentions another one of the five:

Always at times of crisis, the Lord stood by him. He was alone in the cell. Maybe he was saying, “Carest Thou not that I perish?” Maybe he was saying, “Lord, seems as though You’ve been all gone a while. Lord, have You forgotten me?” You know, you can have those kind of moods when you’ve been through something like that easily.

It wasn’t enough for the Lord to just remind him of a few principles. Jesus came to him. Jesus came and stood by him and He gave him three little words: consolation; commendation; and, confidence.”

Knowing this, we can better understand why Paul was so optimistic in his letters to the faithful. He understood that the Lord does not forsake His people. Even if we cannot physically see Him, our Redeemer does not forsake us, either.

As MacArthur says:

Do you think God cares for you? God came to Paul and He gave him thanks for the past; comfort for the present; assurance for the future. He’s the God of all comfort. I’ve seen Him comfort many people. I’ve seen Him comfort in my own life and give consolation. I know you have. In the midst of any trial, He cares. Cast your care on Him.

Paul’s ordeal continued with yet another murder attempt against him.

Next time — Acts 23:12-15

Below are the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary.

Last week’s readings were about the coming of Christ to Earth to save mankind and His Second Coming in judgement.

This week’s readings prophesy John the Baptist and Jesus.

There are two Gospel readings but the way they are arranged suggests two sets of readings. I am, therefore, just going to list everything as it appears at source, the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Emphases mine below.

First reading (Catholic)

Baruch is not in Protestant Bibles, therefore, this is for Catholic Mass. This imagery in this passage is so evocative that it is almost cinematic.

Baruch 5:1-9

5:1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.

5:2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;

5:3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.

5:4 For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”

5:5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.

5:6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.

5:7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

5:8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.

5:9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

First reading (Protestant)

This reading from Malachi prophesies John the Baptist and, above all, Jesus.

Malachi 3:1-4

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;

3:3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.

3:4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

Gospel (first choice)

This passage from Luke concerns the birth of John the Baptist and the prophecy of Christ Jesus. John’s father, Zechariah, spoke them after having been freed from a nine-month (at least) punishment of being deaf and mute for not believing the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement that his wife Elizabeth would bear a child at an advanced age. (Up to then, she had been infertile.) At the child’s circumcision — also his naming ceremony — the judgement was lifted once Zechariah wrote the name ‘John’ on a slate. The choice of name for their baby was controversial, because others wanted him to be named Zechariah.

I do not understand why the Lectionary editors could not have included verse 67, which puts the rest into context. No wonder people don’t listen to Scripture readings:

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

Now on to the reading:

Luke 1:68-79

1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

1:72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,

1:73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us

1:74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

1:75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Epistle

This is the beginning of a letter from Paul — who included Timothy in his greeting — to the Christians in Philippi. ‘The one’ in verse 3 refers to Jesus Christ.

As with the aforementioned passage from Luke, this reading would have been further enhanced if the Lectionary editors had included the first two verses to add context:

Paul and Timothy, servants[a] of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers[b] and deacons:[c]

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

On to the reading:

Philippians 1:3-11

1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you,

1:4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,

1:5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.

1:6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

1:7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

1:8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

1:9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight

1:10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,

1:11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Gospel

This is Luke’s account of the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry. Note that John repeats his father’s words, citing Isaiah (see above, Luke 1:76):

Luke 3:1-6

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,

3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

3:3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

3:4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

3:5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

3:6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

These readings are beautiful in every way — the perfect inspiration for a great sermon.

Will you hear a great sermon tomorrow? I pray that you do.

Bible openThe 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 (here and here).

Acts 23:1-5

23 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry concluded with the Roman tribune putting Paul before the Jewish hierarchy so that he might know the real reason the Jews in Jerusalem were so angry at him.

John MacArthur sets the scene well (emphases mine below):

the apostle Paul is drawn before the Sanhedrin. They have hastily convened in Fort Antonia, called into session by Claudius Lysias – who is the commander-in-chief of the Roman forces – and they have been called in order to try to ascertain what this man has done. The Romans saw the riot. They saw the crowd trying to murder Paul; and, they didn’t really know what the accusation was. They’ve tried several ways to find out, without success; and so now Claudius Lysias figures, “If I can get the Sanhedrin together, they can judge the case. They can hear the evidence. They can come up with a crime for which he can be sent to Caesarea and tried.” He assumed there must be a crime, or they wouldn’t have been trying to kill him in the temple court.

So, as we approach verse 30, the session of the Sanhedrin is called together. As we come to verse 1, we see four major points in this flow of text: the confrontation; the conflict; the conquest; and, the consolation.

We will be looking at the confrontation today.

Paul, bloody and achy, stood before the Sanhedrin, addressing them as ‘brothers’ and saying that he had lived before God with a clean conscience up to that day (verse 1).

This was bound to raise hackles immediately, because there was a formal greeting to be said to the Sanhedrin, and ‘brothers’ was not it. MacArthur explains:

The proper way was Acts 4:8, “Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel’.” Now, you see, the formal title “You rulers of the people and elders of Israel,” gave them their dignity; it put them up where they belonged, and so you were supposed to acquiesce to that.

However, recall that, as a young man, Paul, a Pharisee, had studied under Gamaliel in Jerusalem and was also the chief persecutor of the first Christians in the city, so he would have known these men:

Some of them were the students of Gamaliel, who had studied with him when he was younger. Many of them were Pharisees, and the camaraderie and esprit de corps of the Pharisees was really amazing; and they were buddies. They all knew who he was.

In fact, he had been the arch persecutor of the church and had worked in association with those people in that Sanhedrin.

They were also rankled because Paul had converted to Christianity:

And now they thought he was a traitor; they thought he was an apostate; they thought he was a blasphemer.

They were angry that he rightly claimed to have lived his life ‘before God’ but left the Jewish faith.

MacArthur says that Paul stared at them ‘intently’. MacArthur tells us this is because Paul knew he was innocent:

It’s a very strong word. Atenizō means to stare at, to gaze at, to fix your eyes on. I mean, you could imagine him sort of twiddling his thumbs behind his back and rocking from foot to foot with his head down saying “Uh, er, I, well, I don’t know how I got into this mess, uh, er.” That isn’t him …

He stood up; looked them eyeball-to-eyeball. You might be able to call this kind of thing the look of conscious integrity. You see, he knew he was innocent, and he knew God was with him, and so he was completely confident.

MacArthur and Matthew Henry differ in their interpretation of what ‘up to this day’ means. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul was speaking of the time from his conversion to that point:

He seems rather to speak of the time since his conversion, since he left the service of the high priest, and fell under their displeasure for so doing; he does not say, From my beginning until this day; but, “All the time in which you have looked upon me as a deserter, an apostate, and an enemy to your church, even to this day, I have lived in all good conscience before God; whatever you may think of me, I have in every thing approved myself to God, and lived honestly,” Hebrews 13:18.

MacArthur, on the other hand, thinks that Paul meant his entire life, which then put the onus on the council:

He says to them, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” That is bold. He says “You know, all through my life, until now, I have done what my conscience has told me God wanted me to do.” Now, you see what that does to them? Now, they’re not judging Paul; they’re judging whom? God, you see. So he really puts them in a corner. “Now, my conscience is clear,” he says.

The high priest Ananias was furious and ordered those nearby to strike Paul on the mouth (verse 2). I’ll get to Ananias’s life story in a moment, but, first, there was no reason for him to order Paul to be struck on the mouth. Both commentators agree that this was either a fist punch or that some instrument was used, such as a club (MacArthur) or a rod (Henry).

Mosaic law put restrictions on a Jew smiting a fellow Jew. MacArthur tells us:

Jewish law said, “He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite, strikes, as it were, the glory of God.” That’s Jewish law. Jewish law said, “He who strikes an Israelite strikes the Holy One.” The Jewish law safeguarded the rights of a man, and he was innocent until proven guilty. And Ananias had no business touching him by way of the Jewish law; he had no business touching him by way of criminal punishment, either. He wasn’t even accused of anything, let alone judged of it to be guilty.

Although St Luke, the author of Acts, does not say that one of the men struck Paul, both MacArthur and Henry say that Paul did indeed receive a blow to the mouth.

Paul, full of righteous indignation, compared Ananias to a whitewashed wall, warning the high priest that God would strike him and pointing out that he had also broken the law (verse 3).

One can imagine the tense atmosphere. It would only get worse.

Now to Ananias. He was not a good man. In fact, the ordinary Jews did not like him at all. Many thought he was a usurper of the high priest position. They also thought he cosied up to the Romans too much. Hence, Paul’s use of the term ‘whitewashed wall’, not dissimilar to Jesus’s use of the words ‘whited sepulchre’.

Matthew Henry tells us what happened to Ananias afterwards:

Paul did not speak this in any sinful heat or passion, but in a holy zeal against the high priest’s abuse of his power, and with something of a prophetic spirit, not at all with a spirit of revenge. 1. He gives him his due character: Thou whited wall; that is, thou hypocrite–a mud-wall, trash and dirt and rubbish underneath, but plastered over, or white-washed. It is the same comparison in effect with that of Christ, when he compares the Pharisees to whited sepulchres, Matthew 23:7. Those that daubed with untempered mortar failed not to daub themselves over with something that made them look not only clean, but gay. 2. He reads him his just doom: “God shall smite thee, shall bring upon thee his sore judgments, especially spiritual judgments.” Grotius thinks this was fulfilled soon after, in his removal from the office of the high priest, either by death or deprivation, for he finds another in that office a little while after this; probably he was smitten by some sudden stroke of divine vengeance.

MacArthur relates a worse history:

in verse 2, “And the high priest Ananias” – not to be confused with Ananias and Sapphira, and not to be confused with Annas, who was the former high priest at the time of Jesus’ trial; this is a new one, the son of Nedebeus who started in 47 AD and went about 11 or 12 years after that, and then was assassinated.

But, anyway, “The high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.” Boy, the high priest lost his cool. Now, this Ananias was really just a profane, foul, filthy character; one of the most disgraceful and foul profaners of the office of high priest. The historians, the ancient historians, have all bad to say about him.

Josephus says “he took all the tithes that were to be distributed for the living of the common priests and stole all of it.” He kept it for himself. He assassinated anybody and everybody who got in his way. He lined his own pockets every way possible. In fact, he started a war; at least was in on the beginning perpetration of a war, and Rome got upset with him; and so Rome hauled him over to bring him to trial, and they couldn’t get anything against him. He was clever, and they had to let him go, and that was five years before this account. He came back, and he was still ruling – very, very evil, tyrannical man.

He became very pro-Roman, however, and really bowed and scraped to Rome, so much so that his own people began to hate him. Imagine a Jewish high priest who is pro-Roman. They hated him. And finally, when in 66 AD – four years before the destruction of Jerusalem – a group of Jewish insurrectionists started a war against Rome, one of the people they wanted to get was Ananias. They found him hiding in an aqueduct, dragged him out, and murdered him and his brother. So he had a rather hasty demise.

Wow.

The council — the Sanhedrin — was the elite of the Jewish religious class. They were not going to tolerate disrespect from anyone, especially Paul. So, those standing nearby asked Paul if he would verbally abuse — revile — the high priest (verse 4). Mosaic law laid out protocol for addressing people in authority, be they religious or secular.

MacArthur tells us how it worked:

When God set up His economy, His theocracy – you can go back to Deuteronomy chapter 17; … “God ordained authority in Israel.” There has to be authority. You know, that even a bad government is better than no government? The worst government is better than no government.

God has leaders. A bad leader is worse than no leader? No. No leader is worse than a bad leader. God ordains authority and submission, and God knows that there are going to be bad leaders, and bad governments and bad high priests, bad judges, and God still said to Israel, “You submit,” because submission is the principle that keeps the thing together. And that judge, or that priest, or that leader, will pay for his own failure. He is accountable to God. You’re accountable to be submissive to him – unless, of course, he makes you do something in direct violation to God.

But here, interesting thing; in Deuteronomy 17:8, God first gave the pattern, “If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, then come to this place which I will choose.” Now verse 9, “And come to the priests, the Levites, and the judge who shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment.” God set up a court, a law where they could go and resolve the problems they couldn’t resolve among themselves. “And thou shalt do according the sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall show thee; thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee.” Obey them. “According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do. Thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee to the right hand or the left. And the man who will do presumptuously, and not hearken to the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and you shall put that evil away from Israel.”

You can stone the man if he disobeys the decision of the court. You don’t speak a word, and you don’t disobey the one God has set up to be judge or priest. Both judge and priest came together in the high priest, who was the ruling man in the Sanhedrin. He was both judge and high priest.

Paul was in the wrong:

So, when Paul spoke that way to the high priest, he did stand in violation. The high priest had no right to inflict punishment on him, but he had no right to react the way he did because he was taking an action that violated the principle that God had ordained, the principle that goes with that office. You say, “But the man was a crumb. The guy was no good. He was a terrible person.” That’s not the point. The office was God-ordained.

I think you’d find it interesting sometime if you’ll look up Exodus 21:6, Exodus 22:8 and 9, and Psalm 82:1. You’ll find that name of God, Elohim, is also the title of the judges in those passages. God actually called certain judges in His land gods, because they stood as His place of authority and representation of the law; and in that sense, represented Him.

So, a man who held a sacred position was not to be desecrated or slandered or cursed. But a man was to submit to that, because it was a God-ordained place, even though the man was satanic.

Paul knew that because he cited that divinely-ordained rule and said he was unaware that Ananias was the high priest (verse 5).

It seems to be a bit strange to read that Paul said he did not know who the high priest was, but MacArthur gives two reasons why. First, the council had been hastily convened and, secondly, Paul had poor eyesight.

Let’s look at the first reason:

Now, it’s interesting I think to see that Paul said, “I didn’t know he was the high priest.” You say, “Well, how ignorant can a guy be? What do you mean you don’t know it’s the high priest?” I told you last week that I thought it was important that they convened the session in Fort Antonia, and I don’t think that Claudius Lysias wanted to turn Paul over to the Jews and have them take him over to where they usually met because it could start another riot. So, he wanted to keep custody, so he brought the Sanhedrin to Fort Antonia

And so here they wouldn’t be in their normal configuration. They wouldn’t be seated with the high priest in his special seat. They would just be together in a mass milling around. And since it was an informally-called session, the high priest wouldn’t have his special robes on. So it is very likely that, because of that, he was unrecognizable, and that the voice just came out of the mass of 71 people there.

Now to the second factor, Paul’s eyesight:

In addition to that, it is very possible that Paul had poor eyesight, isn’t it? You remember in Galatians, he writes about how large a letter I have written unto you, and the Greek is with what “large letters”? One of the possibilities of that is that it could refer to poor eyesight, among others.

But he says in Galatians 4:15; he says, “You and I had such a good relationship that you would’ve plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” That may be an indication that he had a eye problem, and had there been transplants possible, they would’ve afforded him the eyes. So it may have been that he had an eye problem. He just couldn’t see that well. I think it’s probably best to assume that that’s possible, but that likely they were mixed together. Without their formal robes on, he wouldn’t have been able to tell who it was.

Despite this tense situation, Paul hadn’t finished stating his case. Next week, we’ll look at what happened.

Next time — Acts 23:6-11

We are now entering a new Church year and, with that, a new Lectionary year: Year C.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2018.

Advent readings remind us how many times Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

This can be understood as the coming release from captivity, but also about the joy to be experienced when the Messiah comes.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

33:14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

33:15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

33:16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Psalm

The Psalm alludes to the comfort and assurance we have in staying close to the Lord.

Psalm 25:1-10

25:1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

25:2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.

25:3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

25:5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

25:6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

25:7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!

25:8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

25:9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

25:10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

Epistle

These verses from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians are beautiful. Notice the emphasis on prayer and love.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

3:9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?

3:10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

3:11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.

3:12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

3:13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Gospel

St Luke records the words of Jesus about His Second Coming.

Luke 21:25-36

21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

There is a lot of great sermon material here. It is unfortunate that most clergy today are ill-equipped to expound on it appropriately and accurately.

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 22:22-30

Paul and the Roman Tribune

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips,[a] Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Paul Before the Council

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

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Last week’s entry was about the testimony — apologia — that Paul gave to the mob in Jerusalem, who had calmed down long enough to hear him until he said:

21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

At the mention of the Gentiles, the mob went mad again, clamouring for his death (verse 22), not unlike the mob clamouring for Jesus’s death two decades earlier.

The crowd shouted, took off their garments and threw dirt at Paul (verse 23).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states they acted out — much like today’s leftists do — in order to persuade the Roman tribune (commander, chiliarch) to accede to their demands. Might makes right, in other words. So wrong:

All they intended was to make the chief captain sensible how much they were enraged and exasperated at Paul, so that he could not do any thing to gratify them more than to let them have their will against him.

These people had taken leave of their senses (emphases mine):

They went stark mad against Paul, and against the chief captain for not killing him immediately at their request, or throwing him as a pry into their teeth, that they might devour him (Acts 22:23); as men whose reason was quite lost in passion, they cried out like roaring lions or raging bears, and howled like the evening wolves; they cast off their clothes with fury and violence, as much as to say that thus they would tear him if they could but come at him.

They threw dirt at Paul, signifying it was blasphemy to link Jews with Gentiles. The removal of garments meant that they could get a better handful of dirt to throw at him and/or to stone him, were they able to do so:

rather, they thus showed how ready they were to stone him; those that stoned Stephen threw off their clothesOr, they rent their clothes, as if he had spoken blasphemy; and threw dust into the air, in detestation of it; or signifying how ready they were to throw stones at Paul, if the chief captain would have permitted them.

So the tribune ordered that Paul be brought into the barracks and be tortured — examined — by scourging so that he would confess his crime (verse 24).

There was one problem with that. The tribune assumed that Paul did not have Roman citizenship, even though Paul had already told him he had been born in Tarsus, Roman territory (Acts 21:39):

39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.”

Paul waited to say something until after he had been bound up for scourging. Binding was more than just securing a person to a whipping post. The Romans stretched the skin to the point that the scourge — best depicted in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (watch it and don’t look away) — which was a cat o’ nine tails with sharp and irregularly sized stone bits on the ends to gouge the skin from first contact.

John MacArthur explains:

Verse 25: “And as they bound him with thongs,” – and the word “bound” has the implication of stretching. That’s what they did. They would stretch the man’s body to all extreme, so that his body would be drawn to attention, and so that all the lashes would cause the skin to separate immediately, and cut right into the flesh and the muscle and tissue… 

Now the scourge, if it didn’t kill him would cripple him for life.

Bound yet calm, Paul asked the centurion supervising this if it was lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged, especially uncondemned (verse 25).

That question was a game-changer, because, if the Romans tortured Paul, they could be in serious trouble, even subject to the death penalty. MacArthur tells us:

… it was a crime to scourge a Roman. The Portion law and the Valerian law forbid any Roman from ever going through punishment by flagellum.

To add to that, Suetonius the lawyer said, “Any Roman who violates or any man who violates the rights of a Roman citizen will be executed of Esquiline Hill in Rome.” So when Paul said, “Is it lawful to do this to a Roman, uncondemned?” panic struck.

The centurion immediately went back to the tribune to ask what to do (verse 26).

The tribune approached Paul and asked him if he had Roman citizenship. Paul answered in the affirmative (verse 27).

The tribune said he had purchased his Roman citizenship. Paul replied that he was a free-born Roman (verse 28), one better.

Hearing that, the tribune and his men were afraid. Their having bound Paul was illegal. They were at risk of punishment, possibly losing their commissions. Roman law was not to be trifled with, especially with regard to citizenship.

Still wanting to get to the bottom of the matter, the tribune decided to turn him over to the Jewish court (verse 30).

MacArthur has information about the tribune:

Verse 26: “When the centurion” – that’s the captain of a hundred men – “heard that, he went and told the chief captain” – that’s the captain of a thousand men, the chief commander, Claudius Lysias – “he said, ‘Take heed what you do. This man is a Roman.’” Boy, when the news got there, panic.

“The chief captain came and said unto him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ He said, ‘Yes.’” Do you see how God had equipped Paul for every trial?

You know, that reminds me of 1 Corinthians 10. When Paul said it, he knew what he was talking about: “God will never allow you to suffer above that you are able, but will, with every trial or temptation, make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it.” God fits every man for everything He takes him through.

“He said, ‘Yes,’ and the chief captain answered, ‘Oh, with a great sum obtained I this freedom.’ He said, ‘Man, I bought my Roman citizenship. It means a lot to me. You realize what I almost did? Almost lost my citizenship or my life.’”

Paul quietly says, it’s interesting, “I was free born,” which just drives the nails in a little deeper. He wasn’t a second-class citizen, he was a first-class citizen. And here was a second-class citizen going to flagellate a first-class citizen. Bad news. The first guy was on thin ice anyway.

You say, “How did he get his citizenship?” He bought it. You say, “Who’d he buy it from?” Probably under the rule of Emperor Claudius, because his name is Lysias, a Greek name, he’s a Greek guy. Where did he get the Roman name Claudius? Well, people used to take the name of the emperor, so he probably took Claudius’ name, because during the reign of Claudius, Claudius had a wife named Messalina, and Messalina had a bunch of court favorites that hung around her, and they all thought they’d line their own pockets, so they started selling Roman citizenships for exorbitant prices; and what happened was Claudius Lysias bought one of them, took the name of Claudius.

So he was a purchased citizen in that sense; Paul was born a citizen. You say, “That’s interesting. How did Paul’s father become a citizen?” We don’t know, but God made sure it happened.

Well, “Then immediately” – verse 29 – “they departed from him who should have examined him.” Everybody left. “The chief captain was afraid after he knew that he was a Roman, because he had bound him.” He was scared. Chief captain said, “Everybody out; it’s all over with. And the next day, they turned him over to the Jews for due process.”

As to how Paul’s family had free-born status, Henry has this explanation:

Some think he became entitled to this freedom by the place of his birth, as a native of Tarsus, a city privileged by the emperor with the same privileges that Rome itself enjoyed; others rather think it was by his father or grandfather having served in the war between Cæsar and Antony, or some other of the civil wars of Rome, and being for some signal piece of service rewarded with a freedom of the city, and so Paul came to be free-born …

This could explain Paul’s exhortations to obey secular law, as it did not preclude being devoted to God.

In closing, note that the tribune took a different tack to Gallio in Corinth, when Paul appeared before him (Acts 18:12-17). Gallio told the Jews that their argument was a religious one and that he would not permit it in a Roman tribunal. Then, again, as my post explains, Gallio, being son of Seneca the Younger and grandson of Seneca the Elder, was a far wiser man than Claudius Lysias.

Next time — Acts 23:1-5

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 (here and here).

Acts 22:2-21

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language,[a] they became even more quiet. And he said:

3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel[b] according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand[c] the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

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Last week’s passage discussed the aftermath of the riot in Jerusalem, centred around lies Jews from Ephesus told about Paul. The Roman tribune’s (commander’s) men had to carry Paul away from the crowd. They then bound him, as Agabus had prophesied only days before. Paul then asked the tribune in Greek if he could address the mob. The tribune, surprised and impressed that Paul knew Greek, allowed him to do so.

Paul presented his bona fides in an address — actually, an apologia (defence) of his journey in faith — to the Jews in Jerusalem. Not only did Paul speak Greek, but he also spoke Aramaic, their Hebrew dialect. Consequently, they were quiet (verse 2).

Verse 3 is the beginning of his testimony, where he mentioned his place of birth, Tarsus, home to a notable university at the time, and adding that he came to Jerusalem to study at the feet of Gamaliel, one of Judaism’s greatest teachers, who had also warned the Jewish hierarchy against persecuting Christians in case they (the hierarchy) were opposing God.

Paul was also careful to say that he was as ‘zealous for God’ as they were. How gracious of him, considering that this was the same mob that had bloodied him a short while before.

He went on to say that, at an earlier time, he persecuted followers of the Way — Christians — unto death (verse 4). The Way was a commonly used term for Christianity mentioned in other parts of Acts and New Testament letters. The term comes from Jesus (John 14:6), emphases mine below:

Jesus said to him,“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

One of those who met his death at Paul’s instigation was Stephen, one of the first deacons (see here and here). Near the end of his apologia, he admitted his guilt by mentioning Stephen by name (verse 20).

Paul said these things to show that he really had been steeped in the Jewish faith. However, if that weren’t enough for some in the crowd, he indirectly invited them to check with the high priest and the elders (verse 5), as he was on his way to do their bidding in bringing back Jewish converts from Damascus to Jerusalem for punishment.

He then went on to describe what happened just outside of Damascus (verses 6-13), which I wrote about at length in the following posts:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Note the emphasis that Paul puts on God in quoting the words of Ananias (verse 14). ‘The God of our Fathers’ had appointed Paul to know His will, to have a blinding (literally) encounter with His Son and to be His witness (verse 15). Paul concluded his conversion experience by telling the crowd how Ananias urged him to rise (since his sight had been restored) and be baptised so that his sins could be washed away, calling on His name (verse 16).

Then, Paul discussed his return to Jerusalem. St Luke, the author of Acts, wrote about what happened to Paul after his conversion. Paul stayed in Damascus to preach, then continued his ministry for three years in Arabia, after which time he returned to Jerusalem. At that point, he was praying in the temple when he fell into a trance (verse 17). He had a vision of Christ telling him to leave the city post haste (verse 18). That exit is in Acts 9:26-31; Paul went home to Tarsus for a time.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more on Paul’s vision and our Lord’s message:

In this trance he saw Jesus Christ, not with the eyes of his body, as at his conversion, but represented to the eye of his mind (Acts 22:18): I saw him saying unto me … Before Christ gave him a commission to go to the Gentiles, he told him it was to no purpose for him to think of doing any good at Jerusalem; so that they must not blame him, but themselves, if he be sent to the Gentiles. Paul came to Jerusalem full of hopes that, by the grace of God, he might be instrumental to bring those to the faith of Christ who had stood it out against the ministry of the other apostles; and perhaps this was what he was now praying for, that he, having had his education at Jerusalem and being well known there, might be employed in gathering the children of Jerusalem to Christ that were not yet gathered, which he thought he had particular advantages for doing of. But Christ crosses the measures he had laid: “Make haste,” says he, “and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem;” for, though thou thinkest thyself more likely to work upon them than others, thou wilt find they are more prejudiced against thee than against any other, and therefore “will not receive thy testimony concerning me.” As God knows before who will receive the gospel, so he knows who will reject it.

Paul says he responded to Jesus by saying that the Jews in Jerusalem knew his past of persecution (verse 19), especially with regard to Stephen (verse 20).

Paul ended his apologia by saying that our Lord told him to go far away from Jerusalem and take his ministry to the Gentiles (verse 21).

As Henry says, God answers our prayers according to His will, not ours:

So Paul here prays that he may be an instrument of converting souls at Jerusalem: “No,” says Christ, “but thou shalt be employed among the Gentiles, and more shall be the children of the desolate than those of the married wife.” It is God that appoints his labourers both their day and their place, and it is fit they should acquiesce in his appointment, though it may cross their own inclinations. Paul hankers after Jerusalem: to be a preacher there was the summit of his ambition; but Christ designs him greater preferment. He shall not enter into other men’s labours (as the other apostles did, John 4:38), but shall break up new ground, and preach the gospel where Christ was not named, Romans 15:20. So often does Providence contrive better for us than we for ourselves; to the guidance of that we must therefore refer ourselves. He shall choose our inheritance for us. Observe, Paul shall not go to preach among the Gentiles without a commission: I will send thee. And, if Christ send him, his Spirit will go along with him, he will stand by him, will carry him on, and bear him out, and give him to see the fruit of his labours. Let not Paul set his heart upon Jerusalem, for he must be sent far hence; his call must be quite another way, and his work of another kind. And it might be a mitigation of the offence of this to the Jews that he did not set up a Gentile church in the neighbouring nations; others did this in their immediate vicinity; he was sent to places at a distance, a vast way off, where what he did could not be thought an annoyance to them.

Here Paul was in a precarious situation, not only with the Jews but also the Romans. Yet, he boldly gave this dramatic testimony, all of which points to God working through him. John MacArthur has more:

Look at Paul’s greeting, in verse 1 of 22: “Men and brethren and fathers.” Look in verse 3 how he maximizes similarities. He maximizes the way they are the same, then he says, “I understand your motives. Boy, I understand how you feel, I used to be exactly like that”

The next point in giving a positive testimony is to tell what God did when He invaded your life. “And then you know what happened? I was going about doing what I was doing. All of a sudden, God began to move in my life.” See?

So, number one, accept the situation is from God. Number two, create an opportunity. Number three, when you get that opportunity, be loving and conciliatory, and do everything to win their confidence. And number four, when you begin to talk about the transformation, talk about it from God’s side. “Here is what God did.” Well, may the Lord give us opportunity for that.

Unfortunately, as we shall see next week, the word ‘Gentiles’ triggered the crowd, which, once again, turned into a mob.

Next time — Acts 22:22-30

Bible openThe 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 (here and here).

Acts 21:37-40 and 22:1

Paul Speaks to the People

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language,[a] saying:

22 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post was about the riot that took place in Jerusalem, instigated and agitated by Ephesian Jews who had spread lies about Paul’s preaching.

The Roman chiliarch — tribune, garrison commander — could make no sense out of the mob’s shouts, so he had Paul arrested.

Paul humbly asked the tribune if he could say something to him (verse 37). The tribune was astonished that Paul could speak Greek. Matthew Henry’s commentary expresses it another way:

I am surprised to hear thee speak a learned language …

John MacArthur has more (emphases mine):

Greek was the language of the culture. Greek was the language of the educator. Greek was the language of those who had been outside Jerusalem and educated elsewhere. He was surprised. You say, “Why?” Because in his mind, he thought Paul was nothing but a common r[abble] rouser. He even had an idea who he was. He had no concept at all that this man was an intelligent, cultured, educated man with Greek upbringing.

The tribune revealed why he was so surprised. He thought that Paul was the Egyptian who had instigated a violent insurrection and had never been caught (verse 38). The insurrection had taken place around that time. Two historians, Josephus and Eusebius, wrote about it. Henry explains:

Josephus mentions this story, that “an Egyptian raised a seditious party, promised to show them the fall of the walls of Jerusalem from the mount of Olives, and that they should enter the city upon the ruins.” The captain here says that he led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers–desperadoes, banditti, raparees, cut-throats. What a degeneracy was there in the Jewish nation, when there were found there so many that had such a character, and could be drawn into such an attempt upon the public peace! But Josephus says that “Felix the Roman president went out against them, killed four hundred, and took two hundred prisoners, and the rest were dispersed.”–Antiq. 20. 171; Wars 2. 263. And Eusebius speaks of it, Hist. 2. 20. It happened in the thirteenth year of Claudius, a little before those days, about three years ago. The ringleader of this rebellion, it seems, had made his escape, and the chief captain concluded that one who lay under so great an odium as Paul seemed to lie under, and against whom there was so great an outcry, could not be a criminal of less figure than this Egyptian. See how good men are exposed to ill-will by mistake.

MacArthur’s take is somewhat different: that the Egyptian and his men killed people in the crowd, then vanished. As the Egyptian’s intent was to kill Jews, he waited for major feast days when maximum numbers would gather in Jerusalem:

And of course, his [inten]t, this Egyptian, was to murder Jews. He was anti-Jewish. And what’s interesting about it is that … they captured and killed a total of 600. And when they had done that, the rest escaped, including this leader. And what is fascinating is the whole thing went underground. And this Egyptian continued to lead a band of assassins, who appeared in Jerusalem at feast times, mingled among the crowds carrying daggers, and assassinating people, and then fading into the crowd. Then killing somebody else, and then fading into the crowd.

And always when the feast days occurred, there was the threat of the assassins moving among the people to slaughter the Jews one at a time. Now, when this soldier saw them grabbing Paul, his first assumption was they’ve caught one of those assassins that mingles in the crowd, maybe that Egyptian himself. Well, that’s the conclusion, but of course when Paul said to him in Greek, “Can I speak to the people?” he was shocked because he knew that such an Egyptian r[abble] rouser would not be cultured enough to speak Greek.

Paul explained his origins, stating that he was a Jew and that he came from part of the Roman Empire, Tarsus in Cilicia, mentioning that Tarsus was no obscure city (verse 39). Tarsus had a university. MacArthur tells us:

In fact, Tarsus was ranked anciently with Athens and Alexandria as a city of culture, art and education.

Paul politely asked for permission to address the mob, whom he graciously referred to as ‘the people’.

The tribune duly granted permission, so Paul — a man of short stature — stood on the steps to be better seen by all and made a hand gesture to get their attention (verse 40). Imagine how he must have looked at that point: bloody and dishevelled. When they quietened down, he spoke to them in Aramaic (their Hebrew dialect). He knew the language because he had studied in Jerusalem.

MacArthur discusses how Paul viewed that moment as a grand opportunity, despite the circumstances:

Paul got into this situation, didn’t try to run from it, he accepted it. Why? It was a God-ordained situation. You say, “You mean God let this happen?” No, God made this happen. God put Paul in this place, because it was a positive testimony that He wanted in a negative situation. You see, a positive testimony in a negative situation means there’s potential for change; and so that’s what God wanted. So, number one, if you’re ever going to do anything in a negative situation, if you’re going to do anything confronting the system at all, you’ve got to accept that as a God-allowed or God-ordained opportunity.

The second principle was turn it into an opportunity. Accept it as a God-ordained situation; turn it into an opportunity. Paul did that. He didn’t say, “Oh, I hope something happens so I can talk. Lord, I’ve opened the door.” You know, some people are sitting around waiting for the Lord to do something. They’re going to be sitting around a long time.

As bad as Paul must have looked, he must have felt even worse. Yet, he felt motivated to speak to hundreds of people in Christ’s service.

He addressed them charitably — ‘brothers and fathers’ — and urged them to hear his defence (Acts 22:1).

Next time — Acts 22:2-21

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 21:27-36

Paul Arrested in the Temple

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!”

—————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry described the Nazirite vow that James and the elders in Jerusalem ordered Paul to take in order to pacify Jews in Jerusalem who were lying about Paul’s preaching.

Paul did so, but, as we see here, all the Spirit-led prophecies about the dangers that he would face in Jerusalem came true. From this point, the Book of Acts shows Paul no longer as a free man founding and building churches, but as a prisoner of Christ. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

…. beginning here in chapter 21, he becomes a prisoner. And as a prisoner, we find that he gives six separate defenses of his actions

Now, you’ll notice that these six defenses are given before the mob; the first one; before the council the second; the third and fourth before the governors who are Felix and Festus; the fifth one before the king, and the last before the Jews. And you’ll notice, also, that there are three cities involved, the first two came in Jerusalem, the next in Caesarea and the final in Rome. And the result of the first accused, the next absolved, and the last awaiting trial

I think, just to add a footnote, as a prisoner from here on out, we ought to get some idea of how Paul viewed his imprisonment. And just to give you a point of reference at which you can make contact, I would call your attention to Ephesians chapter 3, and verse 1 … Paul says, “For this cause, I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles.” Now keep this in the back of your mind: Paul never viewed his situation as anything other than God authored, okay? He never viewed his imprisonment as an imprisonment of men. He doesn’t say, “I write unto you, Paul, a prisoner of Rome.” He’s always a prisoner of whom? Jesus Christ. It was Christ who brought him into such predicaments.

In Philippians he says, “My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace.” He never saw himself as a prisoner of men. He saw himself only as a prisoner of the will of Jesus Christ. And so consequently, his imprisonment represented nothing but a new ministry. It didn’t mean the end of anything. It meant the beginning of something. He says to them, “My bonds in Christ are made manifest in all the palace.

And at the end of Philippians, he says, “The saints greet you chiefly that are of Caesar’s household.” It’s just a question of winning people to Christ who were available to be reached through prison. And I love what he says when he says, “I may be bound, but the Gospel is not bound.” And so he never says his imprisonment as having anything to do with men, but always with God. And God uses him to give a glorious testimony; positive witness in every one of those trials, even though they were all negative situations.

Jews from Asia Minor stirred the crowd in Jerusalem against Paul when he appeared at the temple at the end of his Nazirite vow (verse 27). He was to pay the sacrifices of himself and four other men whom James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem had designated.

These ‘Jews from Asia’ called out to the ‘men of Israel’ — observant Jews — calling for ‘help’ against Paul, about whom they circulated lies regarding  his preaching (verse 28).

They also falsely accused him of bringing Gentiles past the point where only Jews were allowed.

Verse 27 uses the words ‘stirred up’ the crowd, which MacArthur says means ‘confused’ the crowd in the original Greek that St Luke, the author of Acts, used:

The word stirred up, though there are other English statement stirred in the New Testament, the actual Greek word used here is only used here, and it means confused. “They confused the mob.” Mobs are always confused, as I just said, and they confused the mob, and they laid hands on Paul. Here’s Paul in there finishing up his Nazarite vows, and a whole bunch of these Jews from Ephesus descend on him, grab him, and they stir up the confusion of the mob, and this crying and yelling, verse 28, “Crying out, men of Israel, help.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that the Jews of Jerusalem had not accused Paul of wrongdoing, only the Jews who probably knew him from his preaching in Asia Minor, specifically Ephesus. He also explains that their ranting rhetoric was to agitate true Jews into action, as if Paul were a thief or a traitor:

They cried out, “Men of Israel, help. If you are indeed men of Israel, true-born Jews, that have a concern for your church and your country, now is your time to show it, by helping to seize an enemy to both.” Thus they cried after him as after a thief (Job 30:5), or after a mad dog. Note, The enemies of Christianity, since they could never prove it to be an ill thing, have been always very industrious, right or wrong, to put it into an ill name, and so run it down by outrage and outcry. It had become men of Israel to help Paul, who preached up him who was so much the glory of his people Israel; yet here the popular fury will not allow them to be men of Israel, unless they will help against him. This was like, Stop thief, or Athaliah’s cry, Treason, treason; what is wanting in right is made up in noise.

They falsely claimed to have seen Trophimus, a Gentile convert from Ephesus, in an inner part of the temple where only Jews were allowed, intimating that Paul was to blame for that (verse 29).

By now, those readers who are still learning the New Testament are wondering why there was such a commotion at this particular time. Recall that Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, along with his companion Luke and a group of Gentiles — among them Trophimus — to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 20:1-6). Acts 20:6 mentions that Luke and Paul had celebrated the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the first seven days after Passover. Jewish tradition was still part of Paul’s and other Jewish converts’ lives at that time.

Most people will have observed that the main Jewish and Christian festivals occur around the same timeframe: Hannukah and Christmas, Passover and Easter, the Feast of Weeks and Pentecost.

The Feast of Weeks is the celebration of the Jews receiving Mosaic Law 50 days after the Exodus. The Exodus is commemorated at Passover, and the Feast of Weeks comes 50 days after that. To remember these laws being handed down is a highly important time for a Jew. At that time, the Jews from other nations would have returned to Jerusalem, as they had done for Passover. MacArthur explains:

Historians tell us it could be 2 million people there. Two million people milling around that city at feast time. Now the term Pentecost, and it was the feast of Pentecost as we’ve seen in past study, Paul wanted to get there at Pentecost, and that was a time when people really moved in Jerusalem from everywhere. That’s why those Asian Jews were there. It signifies the 50th. Penta means 50. This is 50 days after Passover. And it was the Old Testament feast of harvest sometimes called the Feast of Weeks, and sometimes called the Day of First Fruits.

It celebrates the first fruits of the wheat harvest, does Pentecost. And so it was that celebration. But after the exile, it had become kind of a different celebration. It was said that the Torah, the Law, the Law of Moses, was given 50 days after the Exodus. So the feast of Pentecost then became associated with the celebration of the birthday of the Law. Now, mark that because that’s very important, because it helps us to understand the attitude of the people. They were in the midst of a celebration of the Law, which means they were celebrating Jewishness to its nth degree. At this particular celebration, the concentration on the Law leads me to conclude two things: One, the fact that Paul wanted to be there indicates that he does revere the Law. In fact, in Romans 7, he said, “I delight in the Law of God.” So he wasn’t anti-Jewish Law. He wasn’t anti-law. In that sense, he delighted in God’s Law. But the fact, also secondly that it was a Jewish celebration of the law, means that the crowd was hyper concerned about the Law and its sanctity.

And so anybody who stood in blatant opposition would be the most flagrant kind of violator of the very thing they were celebrating, and that tends to create the kind of antagonism that this group uses to really try to kill Paul. So they stir up the crowd and the headless mob, and they start yelling, “Help.” And of course, that’s just as if some blasphemy has occurred, or some terrible defamation of the character of God, or the character of Moses. This is some slander that has occurred, desecration of the sanctuary, and they cry out, ‘Men of Israel, Help.” And then they announce the problem. “This is the man,” and they’ve got him by now, “that teaches all men everywhere against the people and the Law and this place.”

Now on to the reason why Paul would not have brought Trophimus, a Gentile, beyond the boundaries of the temple. First of all, Paul would not have challenged the boundaries, because part of him still respected the traditions and laws in which he had been raised a Pharisee. Secondly, the Romans took the temple boundaries seriously as well, because a) they knew they were paramount for the Jews and b) they did not want any disorder on Roman territory. I wrote at length in my commentary on the latter part of Acts 16 — where Paul and Silas were freed from prison via an earthquake — that the prison guard watching them feared for his life. One of the penalties for allowing prisoners to escape was the death penalty. Therefore, if people were running riot in Jerusalem, governors in Rome would have called the authorities in Jerusalem to account.

MacArthur tells us more:

I’ll tell you something else: If he had dragged Trophimus in there, he would’ve dragged him in there at the cost of his life, and he wouldn’t have done that to his friend. No, of course Paul didn’t take Trophimus into the temple; sacred place. They just _____ it out. Trophimus was a Gentile. It says in verse 29, “He was an Ephesian.” And for a Gentile to enter the temple was terrible. The Gentiles could only go to the outer court. In fact since that was true, it became known as the Court of the Gentiles. And between that and the inner court, the next court was called the Court of the Women, and it got that name because the women could go into that court. And then further on in the men went, and then of course the priest and the high priest all the way into the holy of holies. But in the outer court, the Gentiles could go.

Now, between the outer court and the inner court, the Court of the Women, the temple treasury, was a barricade. And periodically, along pillars on the barricade were placed signs. And they were written in two languages, Latin and Greek, so that all the pagans could read them. This is what they said, and interestingly enough, we have found two of those from Herod’s temple. Archaeologists discovered one in 1871, another one in 1935, and they both said the same thing: “No man of alien race is to enter within the barricade that goes around the temple. And if anyone is taken in the act, let him know that he has himself to blame for the penalty of death that follows.”

Now, anybody who went in there as a Gentile died, and the Romans honored that law. They knew how sacred it was to the Jews. And in fact, it was a way of keeping Gentile religion and Gentile gods and idols out of the temple. It was sort of a stopping point for the intrusion of the system of the world. And they didn’t let it be violated. Well, when these guys said they took Greeks into the temple that was just enough to stir up everybody, and give a justification for the murder of Paul.

Now what’s interesting in this: Even if Paul had taken Trophimus in there, it would not have been Paul that died, it would’ve been Trophimus. So it shows that the whole thing was out of whack all the way down the line. Paul couldn’t be killed for going in there; he was a Jew. If anybody got killed, it would be the Gentiles who violated it. So the whole thing was a pretense and in all the confusion, the mob had no idea what they were doing, which is like any mob.

The whole city ran amok and a mob dragged Paul — there to complete his Nazirite vow (oh, the irony) — out of the temple and shut the door (verse 30).

Note that these Asian Jews never went to either the religious or secular authority with their complaint against Paul. They were insistent on making real trouble, relying on lack of reason. Matthew Henry observes:

They cannot prove the crime upon him, and therefore dare not bring him upon a fair trial; nay, so greedily do they thirst after his blood that they have not patience to proceed against him by a due course of law, though they were ever so sure to gain their point; and therefore, as those who neither feared God nor regarded man, they resolved to knock him on the head immediately.

MacArthur points out:

“And they all ran together, took Paul, drew him out of the temple, and at once the doors were shut.” They wanted to make sure they got him out of there so they could go on worshipping God, while they killed God’s anointed. Amazing how they did this. This is what they did at the trial of Jesus. They wanted to make sure they didn’t violate the Sabbath while they executed the Messiah: Made sure they didn’t violate any of the things that were going on at that particular time. Didn’t want to enter into the house of the Gentiles at all, because they would defile themselves. They stayed outside and screamed for the blood of the Messiah.

Then, the tribune of the Roman troops — the cohort — found out what was going on (verse 31). MacArthur says it was highly important to quell this riot quickly. Also, contrary to the dictionary definition of cohort being several hundred men, he says that there were 1,000 men in the garrison:

The one great thing that the Roman Government wanted in its colonies and its possessions was civil order. They didn’t tolerate civil disorder. They didn’t tolerate it from the people, and any commander who allowed it was in real trouble. And so they had an observation tower to watch because most of what went on in terms of congregating went on in the temple courtyard, and the garrison of at least 1,000 men in the temple right there on the northwest wall of the temple yard.

Well, the soldiers looking down saw what was going on. Verse 31, “As they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band.” That’s not a musical band, that’s the band of soldiers, “that all Jerusalem was in an uproar.” Man, they could see that a big deal was going on. They had to get the riot squad ready. These were highly trained men. They were ready to move out.

A commander of a garrison was known in Greek as a chiliarch. The word ‘millennium’ replaced ‘chiliasm’. There was also a Christian movement called chiliasm. The root of all three words means ‘one thousand’:

The Greek word is chiliarch or chiliarc, and it means a thousand. In fact, the old designation of the millennium was chiliasm, because it’s a thousand-year kingdom. Chiliasts were those who believed in the thousand-year literal kingdom. Chiliarch means a thousand, so here was the head of the whole thousand. It’s always easy to tell the Roman structure of soldiers just from that. There are centurions. How many would they be over? One hundred; chiliarch, a thousand.

The tribune — the chiliarch — got the centurions and their subordinates, the soldiers, down to the mob, which, for obvious reasons, stopped beating Paul (verse 32). Then the tribune arrested Paul and bound him with two chains, exactly as Agabus had prophesied when Paul was in Caesarea a few days beforehand (Acts 21:7-14).

As the tribune could not get a coherent answer from the mob as to Paul’s identity or his crime, he ordered his men to take Paul to the barracks (verse 34). The mob were still up in arms, so the soldiers had to carry Paul — a short man — away (verse 35).

The mob said something reminiscent of the one pardoning Barabbas and condemning Christ (verse 36): ‘Away with him!’

Matthew Henry makes an excellent observation about verse 36:

See how the most excellent persons and things are often run down by a popular clamour. Christ himself was so, with, Crucify him, crucify him, though they could not say what evil he had done. Take him out of the land of the living (so the ancients expound it), chase him out of the world.

This is the reason that the display of strong emotion was largely looked down upon until 20 years ago.

For this reason, the expression of strong emotion is a very bad thing. It can lead good people astray, into mob violence. It’s time for modern society to rein it in. Strong emotion serves no positive purpose and can actually lead to harm.

Next time — Acts 21:37-40 through Acts 22:1

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