The Plot Against Paul: Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Acts)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.

13 And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.

The Lord’s assuring vision to Paul was timely, coming as it did on the day following the fiasco at the council meeting, for his troubles were far from over. The threat came from a group of 40 zealous Jews{7] who placed themselves under a vow to neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul{2]. They placed themselves under an anathema, a curse, probably in the form of “May I be cursed/eternally damned if . . .” One wonders if they died of hunger or thirst, for their vow was definitely not fulfilled. Actually, Jewish law provided for the release from a vow that was unfulfillable because of some unforeseen circumstance. Paul’s removal under heavy Roman guard would have qualified.

14 And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.
15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.

The 40 conspirators hatched a plot to fulfill their vow, which involved the cooperation of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was to call a session and have the tribune deliverer Paul to them under the pretense of giving him a further hearing. On the way between Antonia and the council chamber{3], they would ambush and kill Paul{4]. It was a desperate plan with little chance of success, conceived perhaps in the knowledge that the Sanhedrin lacked the power in most cases to inflict capital punishment; and the plan may have been as much a symptom of their frustration with Roman rule as it was of their desire to be rid of Paul.

That was the plot. Careless with their own lives, thinking to do God a service, these fanatics would rid Judaism of Paul once and for all. The Jewish leaders, however, had to play their part with the military tribune. They were to tell him they wanted to “inquire” something more perfectly. The word is a medical word for making a careful examination—the word from which comes our English “diagnosis.” How sad that religion should disgrace itself with dark plots, lies, and violence. But little wonder, since religion is spawned by the father of lies, he who was a murderer from the beginning.

Their plan might have worked, but the 40 fasting men and the scheming religious leaders had forgotten that Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, and that the exalted Lord was watching from heaven. At Paul’s conversion, the Lord had told him that he would suffer, but He had also promised that He would deliver him from his enemies (Acts 9:15-16; 26:16-17). Paul held on to that promise all of his life, and God was faithful.

It says something about the spiritual leadership in Israel at that time that no protest was raised by the religious authorities when the conspirators took them into their confidence. On the contrary, they appeared quite willing to give their blessing to the enterprise. Notice also, that there is not any evidence of an attempt by Jerusalem Christians to inform Paul of the plot.
It is perhaps significant that it was the high priestly aristocracy and the elders whom they approached, the Sadducees on the Sanhedrin. The scribes (Pharisees), with their greater openness to Paul (23:9), are not mentioned.

Verses Referenced
(23:9) “There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued

vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
(26:16-17) “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them.”

16 And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.

It is a simple thing for God to bring to nothing the schemes of wicked men. In the providence of God, the plot was overheard by no less a person than Paul’s own nephew. Little is known of Paul’s family. There are reasons for believing that Paul came from a well-to-do and influential Jewish family in Tarsus and that his father disinherited him when he became a Christian (Philippians 3:8). The present passage is the only mention of his sister and of her son. Paul’s sister, however, seems to have cherished a love for her dynamic and charming brother. Paul mentions “Andronica and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7). He also mentions “Herodianmykinsman.” Was Junia, in reality, Paul’s sister? We do not know. However, it seems that some of Paul’s family wasChristians. In any case, Paul’s nephew stumbled across details of the plot and lost no time in bringing the news to Paul. The story of what went on in the Tower is so vivid and circumstantial that it is almost certain that Luke was there.
How Paul’s nephew learned of the plot is anybody’s guess. He seems to have been a young man, perhaps in his late teens{5]. His accessibility to Paul was not unusual. Prisoners of high rank, such as Paul with his Roman citizenship, were often given a great deal of liberty for visits from family and friends.

Verses Referenced
(Philippians 3:8) “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ

17 Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.
18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.

Paul’s substantial standing with the Romans is indicated by the unquestioning compliance the centurion gave to his request. He did not even tell the centurion of the plot.

The boy is described here has a “young man,” which suggests that he was only a youth. Today, we would probably call him a young “teenager.”

19 Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?

Lysias sensed that it was a matter of extreme importance and graciously took the young man by the hand and led him to a place where he could receive the report in secret. The kindly gesture speaks volumes for the regard with which he now held Paul. The friendly act would help put the young man at ease.

This may be a good place to mention that there is no record in Acts of official Roman persecution against the church; the opposition was instigated by the unbelieving Jews. While the empire had its share of corrupt political opportunists, for the most part, the military leaders were men of quality who respected the Roman law.

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