Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.XXII.
(1) Men, brethren, and fathers.—The apparently triple division is really only two-fold—Brethren and fathers. (See Note on Acts 7:2.) It is noticeable that he begins his speech with the self-same formula as Stephen. It was, perhaps, the received formula in addressing an assembly which included the scribes and elders.
(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)(2) They kept the more silence.—The opening words had done the work they were meant to do. One who spoke in Hebrew was not likely to blaspheme the sacred Hebrew books. What follows was conceived in the same spirit of conciliation.
I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.(3) Brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel.—His education may have begun shortly after he became a child of the Law, at the age of twelve. (See Note on Luke 2:42.) He, too, had sat in the midst of the doctors, hearing and asking questions. The Rabbis sat in a high chair, and their scholars on the ground, and so they were literally at their master’s feet.
Taught according to the perfect manner . .—The two last words are expressed in the Greek by a single noun, meaning “accuracy,” exactness. In the “most straitest sect of our religion,” of Acts 26:5, we have the corresponding adjective.
Was zealous toward God.—The Apostle (see Note on Acts 21:20) claims their sympathy as having at one time shared all their dearest convictions. There is, perhaps, a touch of higher enthusiasm in the Apostle’s language. He was a zealot for God: they were zealots for the Law.
And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.(4) And I persecuted this way.—The speaker obviously uses the current colloquial term (see Notes on Acts 9:2; Acts 19:23), used by the disciples as indicating that they had found in Christ the way of eternal life; used, it may be, by others with a certain tone of scorn, as of people who had chosen their own way, and must be left to take it.
As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.(5) As also the high priest doth bear me witness.—Annas is named as high priest at the time of St. Paul’s conversion, acting probably with his son-in-law, Caiaphas, as his coadjutor. (See Notes on Luke 3:2; John 18:13.) At the time which we have now reached, the office was filled by Ananias, son of Nebedseus, who owed his appointment to Herod Agrippa II., then King of Chalcis, to whom Claudius had conceded the privilege of nominating the high priests (Jos. Ant. xx. 5, § 2). The official acts of his predecessors would of course be known to the high priest for the time being, and St. Paul can therefore appeal to his knowledge as confirming his own statements.
All the estate of the elders.—The word is perhaps used as identical with the Sanhedrin, or Council; perhaps, also, as including the Gerousia, or “Senate,” of Acts 5:21—a body, possibly of the nature of a permanent committee, or an Upper Chamber, which was apparently represented in the Sanhedrin, and yet had separate rights, and might hold separate meetings of its own.
I received letters unto the brethren.—The phrase is interesting, as showing that the Jews used this language of each other, and that it passed from them to the Church of Christ. On the general history of St. Paul’s conversion, see Notes on Acts 9:1-16. Here it will be sufficient to note points that are more or less distinctive. In Acts 9:2 the letters are said to have been addressed to the “synagogues.”
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.(6) About noon.—The special note of the hour is not given in Acts 9:3, and may fairly be taken as characteristic of a personal recollection of the circumstances of the great event.
And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?(7) Saul, Saul . . .—We have again, as in Acts 9:4, the Hebrew form of the name.
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.(9) They heard not the voice . . .—i.e., they did not hear it as a voice uttering articulate words. It was for them as though it thundered. (See Notes on Acts 9:7, and John 12:29.)
And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.(11) And when I could not see for the glory of that light.—It is again characteristic of a personal recollection that, while the narrative of Acts 9:8 states only the fact of blindness, St. Paul himself connects it with its cause.
And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,(12) A devout man according to the law.—In Acts 9:10, Ananias is simply described as “a disciple.” The special description here was obviously given with a view to conciliate those who were listening to the speech. One, such as Ananias was, was not likely to have connected himself with a profane blasphemer, nor to have received the converted persecutor except on evidence that the change had come from God. St. Paul naturally confines himself to what came within his own experience, and does not dwell on the vision which had been seen by Ananias.
And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.(14) The God of our fathers . . .—The report of what was said by Ananias is somewhat fuller than in Acts 9:17, and gives in outline what had been spoken to him by the Lord. It is obviously implied in Acts 9:15-16, that those words were to be reproduced to Saul. We note the recurrence of the same formula in speaking of God that had been used by Stephen (Acts 7:32).
Hath chosen thee.—The Greek verb is not that commonly rendered by “chosen,” and is better translated fore-appointed.
And see that Just One.—See Note on Acts 7:52, in reference to the use of this name to designate the Lord Jesus.
For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.(15) Thou shalt be his witness.—This mission, identical with that which had been assigned to the Twelve (Acts 1:8), virtually placed the persecutor on a level with them, and was equivalent to his appointment as an Apostle.
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.(16) Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.—Here, again, we have words which are not in the narrative of Acts 9. They show that for the Apostle that baptism was no formal or ceremonial act, but was joined with repentance, and, faith being presupposed, brought with it the assurance of a real forgiveness. In St. Paul’s language as to the “washing” (or, bath) of regeneration (Titus 3:5) we may trace his continued adherence to the idea which he had thus been taught to embrace on his first admission to the Church of Christ.
Calling on the name of the Lord.—The better MSS. give simply, “calling upon His name,” i.e., the name of the Just One whom St. Paul had seen. The reading in the Received text probably arose from a wish to adapt the phrase to the language of Acts 2:21.
And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance;(17) When I was come again to Jerusalem.—This probably refers to the visit of Acts 9:26, and Galatians 1:17-18. The objection that the mission “far hence to the Gentiles” must refer to the subsequent visit of Acts 11:30, has little or no force. When the Apostle went to Tarsus and preached the gospel to the Greeks at Antioch (Acts 11:26), there was a sufficient fulfilment of the promise, “I will send thee . . .” What was indicated in the vision was that he was to have another field of work than Jerusalem and the Church of the Circumcision. It may be noted as one of the “visions or revelations of the Lord” referred to in 2Corinthians 12:1.
Even while I prayed in the temple.—Better, and as I was praying. The fact is brought forward as showing that then, as now, he had been not a blasphemer of the Temple, but a devout worshipper in it, and so formed an important part of the Apostle’s apologia to the charge that had been brought against him.
I was in a trance.—On the word and the state of consciousness it implies, see Note on Acts 10:10.
And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.(18)Get thee quickly out of Jerusalem.—It is obvious that this fits in better with the first hurried visit after St. Paul’s conversion than with the second, when he came with Barnabas with alms for the sufferers from the famine. (See Note on Acts 11:30.)
And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee:(19) Lord, they know that I imprisoned . .—This was said at the time, and it was repeated now. as with a two-fold bearing. It was partly an extenuation of the unbelief of the people. They were, as he had once been, sinning in ignorance, which, though as yet unconquered, was not invincible. Partly it expressed the hope that they too might listen when they saw him whom they had known as a vehement persecutor preaching the faith which he had once destroyed.
And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.(20) When the blood of thy martyr Stephen . . . .—Better, thy witness. The English word is, perhaps, a little too definite and technical, and fails to remind us, as the Greek does, that the same word had been used in Acts 22:15 as expressing the office to which St. Paul himself was called. He probably used the Aramaic word Edh, of which the Greek martus (witness, and, in ecclesiastical Greek, martyr) was the natural equivalent.
Consenting unto his death.—The self-same word is used as in Acts 8:1, not, we may believe, without the feeling which the speaker had lately expressed in Romans 1:32, that that state of mind involved a greater guilt than those who had been acting blindly,—almost in what John Huss called the sancta simplicitas of devout ignorance—in the passionate heat of fanaticism. The words “unto his death” are wanting in the best MSS., but are obviously implied.
And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.(21) I will send thee . . .—It may be noted, in connection with the question discussed in the Note on Acts 22:17, that the words convey the promise of a mission rather than the actual mission itself. The work immediately before him was to depart and wait till the way should be opened to him, and the inward call be confirmed, as in Acts 13:2, by an outward and express command.
Far hence unto the Gentiles.—The crowd had listened, impatiently, we may believe, up to this point, as the speaker had once listened to St. Stephen. This, that the Christ should be represented as sending His messenger to the Gentiles, and not to Jews, was more than they could bear.
And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.(22) Away with such a fellow from the earth.—The scene was ominously like that in which St. Stephen’s speech ended. Immediate execution without the formality of a trial—an eager craving for the blood of the blasphemer—this was what their wild cries demanded and expressed. On the words themselves, see Note on Acts 21:36.
And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air,(23) Cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air.—The latter gesture would seem to have been a natural relief, as with other Oriental nations, to the violence of uncontrolled passion. It may be, however, that the handfuls of dust were aimed at the Apostle as a sign of loathing (comp. Notes on Acts 18:6; Matthew 10:14); and if we take the English version, the “casting off” their outer garments looked very much like preparing for the act of stoning, as in Acts 7:58. The verb may, however, mean only that they “shook their garments,” as St. Paul had done in Acts 18:6, and so the two gestures might be parts of the same act. On the whole, the latter view seems the more probable.
The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him.(24) Bade that he should be examined by scourging.—The matter-of-course way in which this is narrated illustrates the ordinary process of Roman provincial administration. The chiliarch had probably only partially understood St. Paul’s Aramaic speech, and his first impulse was to have him scourged, so as to elicit from his own lips that which he could not gather from the confused and contradictory clamours of the crowd.
And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?(25) And as they bound him with thongs.—The words have sometimes been rendered, “they stretched him forward for the straps”—i.e., put him into the attitude which was required for the use of the scourge; and grammatically the words admit this sense. The Authorised version is, however, it is believed, right. The Greek word for “thong” is always used in the New Testament in connection with the idea of tying (Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:27). It appears here to be expressly distinguished from the “scourges” of Acts 22:24, and in Acts 22:29 we find that St. Paul had actually been bound. He was, i.e., according to Roman custom, stripped to the waist, and tied with leathern thongs, as our Lord had been, to the column or whipping-post which was used within the fortress for this mode of torture. In both instances, it will be noted, the order for the punishment came from a Roman officer.
Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman . . .?—Stress is laid on both points. It was unlawful to scourge a Roman citizen in any case; it was an aggravation so to torture him, as slaves were tortured, only as a means of inquiry. On the whole question of the rights of Roman citizens, and St. Paul’s claim to those rights, see Note on Acts 16:37.
When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.(26) Take heed what thou doest.—The better MSS. give the words simply as a question: “What art thou about to do?”
Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.(27) Art thou a Roman?—The pronoun is emphatic: “Thou, the Jew speaking both Greek and Hebrew, art thou a citizen of Rome?” The combination of so many more or less discordant elements was so exceptional as to be almost incredible.
And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.(28) With a great sum obtained I this freedom.—Better, this citizenship, the word expressing, not the transition from bondage to freedom, but from the position of an alien to that of a citizen. Probably the translators used the word in the sense in which we still speak of the “freedom “of a city. The chiliarch was himself, apparently, an alien by birth, and, as was customary at the time, had obtained the citizenship by the payment of a large bribe. As the admission of citizens now rested with the Emperor, as holding the office of Censor, the money had probably been paid to Narcissus, or some other of Claudius’ favourite freed-men who carried on a traffic of this kind.
I was free born.—The Greek is somewhat more emphatic: I am one even from birth. This implies that St. Paul’s father or grandfather had received the citizenship; how, we cannot tell. Many of the Jews who were taken to Rome by Pompeius as slaves first obtained their freedom and became libertini, and afterwards were admitted on the register as citizens. (See Note on Acts 6:9; Acts 16:37.) The mention of kinsmen or friends at Rome (Romans 16:7; Romans 16:11), makes it probable, as has been said, that the Apostle’s father may have been among them.
Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.(29) Which should have examined him.—The verb had acquired the secondary sense (just as “putting to the question” did in mediæval administration of justice) of examining by torture.
Because he had bound him.—The words seem to refer to the second act of binding (Acts 22:25) rather than the first (Acts 21:33). The chains fastened to the arms were thought of, as we see afterwards, when St. Paul’s citizenship was an acknowledged fact (Acts 26:29; Ephesians 3:1; Ephesians 4:1), as not incompatible with the respect due to a Roman citizen. The binding, as slaves were bound, with leathern thongs, was quite another matter.
On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.(30) Because he would have known the certainty . . .—Better, wishing to know the certain fact, namely, why he was accused. Failing to get the information by the process of torturing the prisoner, the chiliarch now has recourse to the other alternative of getting a formal declaration from the Sanhedrin, as the chief representative body of the Jews. As yet, it will be remembered, they had taken no official action in the proceedings, and the chief captain had heard only the clamours of the crowd.