Paul Before the Sanhedrin: Part 1 of 4 (Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

 Paul makes a futile attempt here to explain his position and his conduct to the Sanhedrin.

Paul makes a futile attempt here to explain his position and his conduct to the Sanhedrin.

April 1, 2015

Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson: IV.E.5: Paul Before the Sanhedrin (23:1-10)

Acts 23:1-10 (KJV)

1And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.
3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?
4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest?
5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.
6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.


Lysias, the Roman Tribune, untied Paul and escorted him to the council. Surely the chiliarch{1] who was so terrified on the previous day over the terrible mistake he nearly committed, did not bind the apostle with chains overnight.

Paul is now a Prisoner, and we will follow his life as a prisoner. From this point on we find Paul defending himself and his ministry. He will appear before several rulers. Because the Jews are plotting his death, he will be taken down to Caesarea. He will spend about two years there in prison before he finally appeals and is sent to Rome.

You may recall that we mentioned that there has always been some controversy, some difference of opinion, as to whether or not Paul should have gone to Jerusalem. Was he in the will of God when he did this? I contend that he was entirely in the will of God. I think that as we move on we will find again and again that Paul is in the will of God. It is true that he has been arrested, and it is true that he is having a rough time. But that does not mean that he is not in God’s will.

As we go along we can see the hand of God in the life of this man. We have seen how the Roman captain arrested Paul and put him in prison and was going to beat him. He called a halt to that when he learned that Paul was a Roman citizen.

Now the Sanhedrin, composed of the religious rulers, want to put him on trial. (Many feel that Paul was himself originally a member of this body.) Paul makes a futile attempt here to explain his position and his conduct to the Sanhedrin. Then we see that the plot to murder Paul leads to his transfer to Caesarea for trial before Felix. This is a remarkable section and very thrilling account of the experiences of Paul as a prisoner for Jesus Christ.

{1] Chiliarch means Royal Guard; those Roman soldiers assigned to keep the peace.


1And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

The captain and his guard (22:30) brought Paul into the council chamber and stepped aside to watch the proceedings. By this time the commander knew the accusations against Paul were Jewish (22:23-29), and the best way to unearth these was to have a hearing before the Sanhedrin. Knowing how the Jews in the temple had treated Paul, Claudius remained there on guard for fear of his prisoner being taken from him and killed. A Roman soldier could not afford to lose a prisoner, for that might mean the forfeiting of his own life. The loss of a prisoner against whom the charges were nebulous would be especially embarrassing for any Roman officer.

The first thing Paul did when confronted by the leaders of the Sanhedrin was to size up the council. This group was composed of 70 (or 71) of the leading Jewish leaders, with the high priest presiding. Unlike Peter and John (4:5-20), Paul was a recognized rabbi who “spoke the language” of his judges, and was utterly familiar with the machinery and proceedings of the Sanhedrin. Paul was seated in plain view of the whole assembly, and he gazed intently at each and every one of them, for he knew that the priests were going to attempt to make him take the full blame for the commotion the day before. He refused to be saddled with the responsibility for what happened. He then announced his innocence, stating that he stood before them with a clear conscience{3]. Luke presents Paul as a sincere Jew loyal to his Jewish faith, before and after his conversion. People of good conscience can be on opposite sides of the same issue; the same person can switch positions while preserving a good conscience. “Good conscience” refers to submission to the will and sovereignty of God—“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” . . . “holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5, 19; also see 1 Peter 3:21). One’s own conscience must be critically evaluated—“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:4). In his mind, even the things he had done when he persecuted the church had been done in good conscience, because he had done them ignorantly—a classic example of the fact that conscience is a good goad{1] but a poor guide. The Holy Spirit’s work in conviction is to bring the Word of God to bear upon the conscience, enlivening it and monitoring it so that it functions properly. Apart from that, conscience can lead people to do strange things.

Luke seems to begin with the meeting well underway, but we may assume that the inquiry was formerly opened and Paul accused of defiling the temple. The statement, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” should not be understood as referring to his entire life (there were some things about which Paul had a bad conscience; 22:20{2]), but only of the recent past and the matters with which he was charged. Paul may have had in mind his duty “to be a good citizen” or “to live as a good citizen” and may represent Paul’s claim, as a Christian, to belong to the commonwealth of God, whose laws he respected and observed—“remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world . . . “ (Ephesians 2:12, 19; Philippians 3:20). The idea of citizenship is prominent in these chapters (21:39; 22:28). Finally, “to this day” also points to the consistency and determination of Paul (2:29; 26:22) as he aims at fulfilling God’s call. From this basis, Paul makes it clear that he is defending not merely himself but the God whom he preaches.

Such a remark as Paul made here was itself something of a provocation. If Paul’s life as a Christian left him in complete innocence before God, then the Sanhedrin members who did not share his commitment to Christ were the guilty parties. It is small wonder that the high priest Ananias immediately ordered him to be struck on the mouth for blasphemy (v. 2). His action was completely in character. Josephus depicted him as one of the very worst of the high priests, known for his pro-Roman sentiments, his extreme cruelty and his greed.

{1] Goad—a sharp pointed stick for urging on cattle, etc. Shamgar slew six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad." The goad is a formidable weapon. It is sometimes ten feet long, and has a sharp point.
{2] “And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I was standing by and approving, and I guarded the clothes of those who killed him” (Acts 22:20).
{3] Conscience is the inner “judge” or “witness” that approves when we do right and disapproves when we do wrong (Romans 2:15). Conscience does not set the standard; it only applies it. The conscience of a thief would bother him if he told the truth about his fellow crooks just as much as a Christian’s conscience would convict him if he told a lie about his friends. Conscience does not make the standards; it only applies the standards of the person, whether they are good or bad, right or wrong.

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