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

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

20 And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly.

21 But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.

Paul’s nephew gave the report in detail, and the tribune listened attentively and without interrupting. This was serious news. Verses 20-21 repeat the content of verses 12-15. The repetition increases the dramatic effect considerably. With each new reference to the plot, the threat to Paul’s life becomes more ominous. From the perspective of information, they contribute nothing new; the only exception being that we now learn that the attempt on Paul’s life was planned for the next day (v. 20). The tribune may have already received the council’s request that the prisoner be brought to them again, for the boy spoke of them as if they were waiting even then for the Tribune's decision. He urged the tribune not to fall in with their plan.

The phrase “now are they ready, looking for the promise from thee” implies that the tribune may have already given some promise of another trial for Paul. This news, however, put a completely new complexion on the matter. He had not bargained for such dishonesty and fanaticism on the part of the Jews and the Jewish authorities. The tribune, however, knew enough about the Jews to take the story quite seriously once it was brought to his attention. The extent of their fanaticism can be understood when we realize that the execution of this plot certainly would have meant the death of many of them at the hands of the Roman guard who protected Paul. Such intense religious fanaticism was common among the Jews of that day.

22 So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me.

The dramatic effect is continued in verse 22 as Lysias continued to insist on secrecy. It was of utmost importance that the whole matter be kept strictly secret if the plot or some other version of it was to be avoided. No one was to know the tribune was aware of the plot.

The commander seems to

have made up his mind about what he would do, even as the boy was speaking. He may have already decided to send Paul to the governor—for he himself lacked the necessary imperium{6] to deal judiciously with prisoners of provincial status—once he had restored public order, but now he determined to send him to the governor that night. The tribune’s plan was simple and wise. He knew that he had to get Paul out of Jerusalem or there would be one murderous plot after another, and one of them just might succeed. He also knew that he had better determine the charges against Paul or he might be accused of illegally holding a Roman citizen. He could solve both problems by sending Paul to Caesarea and putting him under the authority of Felix, the Roman governor.

With a brief warning, he let the young man go. He could be trusted to hold his tongue. His own life would not be worth much if the conspirators found out he had overheard them and betrayed them to the Romans.

Special Notes
{1] Paul had experienced such visions before, particularly at critical junctures in his career (18:9; 16:9; 22:17; 27:23). The expression “the Lord stood by him,” has led some to believe this was a literal appearance of Christ.
{2] The text has “the Jews” but obviously means only the 40.
{3] The exact location of the council chamber in Paul’s day is not certain. Josephus located it just outside the temple precincts, which would make for a more likely ambush spot than if the chamber were located within the temple precincts, as the rabbinic sources have it.
{4] The Western text has the men say (end of v. 15) that they would kill Paul “even if we ourselves could die for it.”
{5] He is called a “young man” in verse 17, which would place him somewhere between 20 to 40 years of age.
{6] “Imperium” is a Latin word which, in a broad sense, translates roughly as 'power to command'. In ancient Rome, different kinds of power or authority were distinguished by different terms. Imperium referred to the ability of an individual to command the military. Primarily used to refer to the power that is wielded, in greater or lesser degree, by an individual to whom it is delegated.
{7]One theory says that the men who plotted against Paul were probably Sicarii or Assassins (21:38), whom we know the high priest Ananias did not hesitate to employ to remove his enemies.

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