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22. Paul's Arrest and Defense
1Brethren and fathers, hear ye the defence which I now make unto you. 2And when they heard that he spake unto them in the Hebrew language, they were the more quiet: and he saith, 3I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as ye all are this day: 4and I persecuted this Way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. 5As 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 journeyed to Damascus to bring them also that were there unto Jerusalem in bonds to be punished. 6And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and drew nigh unto Damascus, about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. 7And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 8And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. 9And they that were with me beheld indeed the light, but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. 10And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. 11And 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. 12And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews that dwelt there, 13came unto me, and standing by me said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And in that very hour I looked up on him. 14And he said, The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know his will, and to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth. 15For thou shalt be a witness for him unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. 16And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name. 17And it came to pass, that, when I had returned to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in the temple, I fell into a trance, 18and saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem; because they will not receive of thee testimony concerning me. 19And I said, Lord, they themselves know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: 20and when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting, and keeping the garments of them that slew him. 21And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles. 22And they gave him audience unto this word; and they lifted up their voice, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. 23And as they cried out, and threw off their garments, and cast dust into the air, 24the chief captain commanded him be brought into the castle, bidding that he should be examined by scourging, that he might know for what cause they so shouted against him. 25And when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? 26And when the centurion heard it, he went to the chief captain and told him, saying, What art thou about to do? for this man is a Roman. 27And the chief captain came and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? And he said, Yea. 28And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this citizenship. And Paul said, But I am a Roman born. 29They then that were about to examine him straightway departed from him: and the chief captain also was afraid when he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. 30But on the morrow, desiring to know the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him, and commanded the chief priests and all the council to come together, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
23. Paul Transferred to Caesarea
1And Paul, looking stedfastly on the council, said, Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day. 2And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. 3Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: and sittest thou to judge me according to the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? 4And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? 5And Paul said, I knew not, brethren, that he was high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people. 6But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. 7And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. 9And there arose a great clamor: and some of the scribes of the Pharisees part stood up, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: and what if a spirit hath spoken to him, or an angel? 10And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the castle. 11And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer: for as thou hast testified concerning me at Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. 12And when it was day, the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13And they were more than forty that made this conspiracy. 14And they came to the chief priests and the elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. 15Now therefore do ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you, as though ye would judge of his case more exactly: and we, before he comes near, are ready to slay him. 16But Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, and he came and entered into the castle and told Paul. 17And Paul called unto him one of the centurions, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain; for he hath something to tell him. 18So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and saith, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and asked me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say to thee. 19And the chief captain took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, What is it that thou hast to tell me? 20And he said, The Jews have agreed to ask thee to bring down Paul tomorrow unto the council, as though thou wouldest inquire somewhat more exactly concerning him. 21Do not thou therefore yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, who have bound themselves under a curse, neither to eat nor to drink till they have slain him: and now are they ready, looking for the promise from thee. 22So the chief captain let the young man go, charging him, Tell no man that thou hast signified these things to me. 23And he called unto him two of the centurions, and said, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go as far as Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night: 24and he bade them provide beasts, that they might set Paul thereon, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor. 25And he wrote a letter after this form: 26Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix, greeting. 27This man was seized by the Jews, and was about to be slain of them, when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28And desiring to know the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him down unto their council: 29whom I found to be accused about questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds. 30And when it was shown to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to thee forthwith, charging his accusers also to speak against him before thee. 31So the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32But on the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle: 33and they, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, presented Paul also before him. 34And when he had read it, he asked of what province he was; and when he understood that he was of Cilicia, 35I will hear thee fully, said he, when thine accusers also are come: and he commanded him to be kept in Herod's palace.
Paul's First Defence.
22 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. 23 And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air, 24 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. 25 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? 26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. 27 Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. 28 And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born. 29 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. 30 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.
Paul was going on with this account of himself, had shown them his commission to preach among the Gentiles without any peevish reflections upon the Jews, and we may suppose designed next to show how he was afterwards, by a special direction of the Holy Ghost at Antioch, separated to this service, how tender he was of the Jews, how respectful to them, and how careful to give them the precedency in all places whither he came, and to unite Jews and Gentiles in one body; and then to show how wonderfully God had owned him, and what good service had been done to the interest of God's kingdom among men in general, without damage to any of the true interests of the Jewish church in particular. But, whatever he designs to say, they resolve he shall say no more to them: They gave him audience to this word. Hitherto they had heard him with patience and some attention. But when he speaks of being sent to the Gentiles, though it was what Christ himself said to him, they cannot bear it, not so much as to hear the Gentiles named, such an enmity had they to them, and such a jealousy of them. Upon the mention of this, they have no manner of patience, but forget all rules of decency and equity; thus were they provoked to jealousy by those that were no people, Rom. x. 19.
Now here we are told how furious and outrageous the people were against Paul, for mentioning the Gentiles as taken into the cognizance of divine grace, and so justifying his preaching among them.
I. They interrupted him, by lifting up their voice, to put him into confusion, and that nobody might hear a word he said. Galled consciences kick at the least touch; and those who are resolved not to be rules by reason commonly resolve not to hear it if they can help it. And the spirit of enmity against the gospel of Christ commonly shows itself in silencing the ministers of Christ and his gospel, and stopping their mouths, as the Jews did Paul's here. Their fathers had said to the best of seers, See not, Isa. xxx. 10. And so they to the best of speakers, Speak not. Forbear, wherefore shouldst thou be smitten? 2 Chron. xxv. 16.
II. They clamoured against him as one that was unworthy of life, much more of liberty. Without weighing the arguments he had urged in his own defence, or offering to make any answer to them, they cried out with a confused noise, "Away with such a fellow as this from the earth, who pretends to have a commission to preach to the Gentiles; why, it is not fit that he should live." Thus the men that have been the greatest blessings of their age have been represented not only as the burdens of the earth, but the plague of their generation. He that was worthy of the greatest honours of life is condemned as not worthy of life itself. See what different sentiments God and men have of good men, and yet they both agree in this that they are not likely to live long in this world. Paul says of the godly Jews that they were men of whom the world was not worthy, Heb. xi. 38. And therefore they must be removed, that the world may be justly punished with the loss of them. The ungodly Jews here say of Paul that it was not fit he should live; and therefore he must be removed, that the world may be eased of the burden of him, as of the two witnesses, Rev. xi. 10.
III. 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 (v. 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. Or, rather, they thus showed how ready they were to stone him; those that stoned Stephen threw off their clothes, v. 20. Or, 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. But why should we go about to give a reason for these experiences of fury, which they themselves could not account for? 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.
IV. The chief captain took care for his safety, by ordering him to be brought into the castle, v. 24. A prison sometimes has been a protection to good men from popular rage. Paul's hour was not yet come, he had not finished his testimony, and therefore God raised up one that took care of him, when none of his friends durst appear on his behalf. Grant not, O Lord, the desire of the wicked.
V. He ordered him the torture, to force from him a confession of some flagrant crimes which had provoked the people to such an uncommon violence against him. He ordered that he should be examined by scourging (as now in some countries by the rack), that he might know wherefore they cried so against him. Herein he did not proceed fairly; he should have singled out some of the clamorous tumultuous complainants, and taken them into the castle as breakers of the peace, and should have examined them, and by scourging too, what they had to lay to the charge of a man that could give so good an account of himself, and did not appear to have done any thing worthy of death or of bonds. It was proper to ask them, but not at all proper to ask Paul, wherefore they cried so against him. He could tell that he had given them no just cause to do it; if there were any cause, let them produce it. No man is bound to accuse himself, though he be guilty, much less ought he to be compelled to accuse himself when he is innocent. Surely the chief captain did not know the Jewish nation when he concluded that he must needs have done something very bad whom they cried out against. Had they not just thus cried out against our Lord Jesus, Crucify him, crucify him, when they had not one word to say in answer to the judge's question, Why, what evil has he done? Is this a fair or just occasion to scourge Paul, that a rude tumultuous mob cry out against him, but cannot tell why or wherefore, and therefore he must be forced to tell?
VI. Paul pleaded his privilege as a Roman citizen, by which he was exempted from all trials and punishments of this nature (v. 25): As they bound him with thongs, or leathern bands, to the whipping post, as they used to bind the vilest of malefactors in bridewell from whom they would extort a confession, he made no outcry against the injustice of their proceedings against an innocent man, but very mildly let them understand the illegality of their proceedings against him as a citizen of Rome, which he had done once before at Philippi after he had been scourged (ch. xvi. 37), but here he makes use of it for prevention. He said to the centurion that stood by, "You know the law; pray is it lawful for you who are yourselves Romans to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?" The manner of his speaking plainly intimates what a holy security and serenity of mind this good man enjoyed, not disturbed either with anger or fear in the midst of all those indignities that were done him, and the danger he was in. The Romans had a law (it was called lex Sempronia), that if any magistrate did chastise or condemn a freeman of Rome, indicta causa—without hearing him speak for himself, and deliberating upon the whole of his case, he should be liable to the sentence of the people, who were very jealous of their liberties. It is indeed the privilege of every man not to have wrong done him, except it be proved he has done wrong; as it is of every Englishman by Magna Charta not to be dis-seized of his life or freehold, but by a verdict of twelve men of his peers.
VII. The chief captain was surprised at this, and put into a fright. He had taken Paul to be a vagabond Egyptian, and wondered he could speak Greek (ch. xxi. 37), but is much more surprised now he finds that he is as good a gentleman as himself. How many men of great worth and merit are despised because they are not known, are looked upon and treated as the offscouring of all things, when those that count them so, if they knew their true character, would own them to be of the excellent ones of the earth! The chief captain had centurions, under-officers, attending him, ch. xxi. 32. One of these reports this matter to the chief captain (v. 26): Take heed what thou doest, for this man is a Roman, and what indignity is done to him will be construed an offence against the majesty of the Roman people, as they loved to speak. They all knew what a value was put upon this privilege of the Roman citizens. Tully extols it in one of his orations against Verres, O nomen dulce libertatis, O jus eximium nostræ civitatis! O lex Porcia! O leges Semproniæ; facinus est vincere Romanum civem, scelus verberare—O Liberty! I love thy charming name; and these our Porcian and Sempronian laws, how admirable! It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen, but an unpardonable one to beat him. "Therefore" (says the centurion) "let us look to ourselves; if this man be a Roman, and we do him any indignity, we shall be in danger to lose our commissions at least." Now, 1. The chief captain would be satisfied of the truth of this from his own mouth (v. 27): "Tell me, art thou a Roman? Art thou entitled to the privileges of a Roman citizen?" "Yes," says Paul, "I am;" and perhaps produced some ticket or instrument which proved it; for otherwise they would scarcely have taken his word. 2. The chief captain very freely compares notes with him upon this matter, and it appears that the privilege Paul had as a Roman citizen was of the two more honourable than the colonel's; for the colonel owns that his was purchased: "I am a freeman of Rome; but with a great sum obtained I this freedom, it cost me dear, how came you by it?" "Why truly," says Paul, "I was free-born." 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; and here he pleads it for his own preservation, for which end not only we may but we ought to use all lawful means. 3. This put an immediate stop to Paul's trouble. Those that were appointed to examine him by scourging quitted the spot; they departed from him (v. 29), lest they should run themselves into a snare. Nay, and the colonel himself, though we may suppose him to have a considerable interest, was afraid when he heard he was a Roman, because, though he had not beaten him, yet he had bound him in order to his being beaten. Thus many are restrained from evil practices by the fear of man who would not be restrained from them by the fear of God. See here the benefit of human laws and magistracy, and what reason we have to be thankful to God for them; for even when they have given no countenance nor special protection to God's people and ministers, yet, by the general support of equity and fair dealing between man and man, they have served to check the rage of wicked and unreasonable illegal men, who otherwise would know no bounds, and to say, Hitherto it shall come, but no further; here shall its proud waves by stayed. And therefore this service we owe to all in authority, to pray for them, because this benefit we have reason to expect from them, whether we have it or no, as long as we are quiet and peaceable—to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty, 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2. 4. The governor, the next day, brought Paul before the sanhedrim, v. 30. He first loosed him from his bands, that those might not prejudge his cause, and that he might not be charged with having pinioned a Roman citizen, and then summoned the chief priests and all their council to come together to take cognizance of Paul's case, for he found it to be a matter of religion, and therefore looked upon them to be the most proper judges of it. Gallio in this case discharged Paul; finding it to be a matter of their law, he drove the prosecutors from the judgement-seat (ch. xviii. 16), and would not concern himself at all in it; but this Roman, who was a military man, kept Paul in custody, and appealed from the rabble to the general assembly. Now, (1.) We may hope that hereby he intended Paul's safety, as thinking, if he were an innocent and inoffensive man, though the multitude might be incensed against him, yet the chief priests and elders would do him justice, and clear him; for they were, or should be, men of learning and consideration, and their court governed by rules of equity. When the prophet could find no good among the poorer sort of people, he concluded that it was because they knew not the way of the Lord, nor the judgments of their God, and promised himself that he should speed better among the great men, as the chief captain here did, but soon found himself disappointed there: these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds, Jer. v. 4, 5. But, (2.) That which he is here said to aim at is the gratifying of his own curiosity: He would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews. Had he sent for Paul to his own chamber, and talked freely with him, he might soon have learned from him that which would have done more than satisfy his enquiry, and which might have persuaded him to be a Christian. But it is too common for great men to affect to set that at a distance from them which might awaken their consciences, and to desire to have no more of the knowledge of God's ways than may serve them to talk of.
Paul's Second Defence.
1 And 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.
Perhaps when Paul was brought, as he often was (corpus cum causa—the person and the cause together), before heathen magistrates and councils, where he and his cause were slighted, because not at all understood, he thought, if he were brought before the sanhedrim at Jerusalem, he should be able to deal with them to some good purpose, and yet we do not find that he works at all upon them. Here we have,
I. Paul's protestation of his own integrity. Whether the chief priest put any question to him, or the chief captain made any representation of his case to the court, we are not told; but Paul appeared here,
1. With a good courage. He was not at all put out of countenance upon his being brought before such an august assembly, for which in his youth he had conceived such a veneration; nor did he fear their calling him to an account about the letters they gave him to Damascus, to persecute the Christians there, though (for aught we know) this was the first time he had ever seem them since; but he earnestly beheld the council. When Stephen was brought before them, they thought to have faced him down, but could not, such was his holy confidence; they looked stedfastly on him, and his face was as that of an angel, ch. vi. 15. Now that Paul was brought before them he thought to have faced them down, but could not, such was their wicked impudence. However, now was fulfilled in him what God promised to Ezekiel (ch. iii. 8, 9): I have made thy face strong against their faces; fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks.
2. With a good conscience, and that gave him a good courage.
——Hic murus aheneus esto,
Nil conscire sibi——
Be this thy brazen bulwark of defence,
Still to preserve thy conscious innocence.
He said, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day. However I may be reproached, my heart does not reproach me, but witnesses for me." (1.) He had always been a man inclined to religion; he never was a man that lived at large, but always put a difference between moral good and evil; even in his unregenerate state, he was, as touching the righteousness that was in the law, blameless. He was no unthinking man, who never considered what he did, no designing man, who cared not what he did, so he could but compass his own ends. (2.) Even when he persecuted the church of God, he thought he ought to do it, and that he did God service in it. Though his conscience was misinformed, yet he acted according to the dictates of it. See ch. xxvi. 9. (3.) 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," Heb. xiii. 18. He had aimed at nothing but to please God and do his duty, in those things for which they were so incensed against him; in all he had done towards the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, and the setting of it up among the Gentiles, he had acted conscientiously. See here the character of an honest man. [1.] He sets God before him, and lives as in his sight, and under his eyes, and with an eye to him. Walk before me, and be thou upright. [2.] He makes conscience of what he says and does, and, though he may be under some mistakes, yet, according to the best of his knowledge, he abstains from that which is evil and cleaves to that which is good. [3.] He is universally conscientious; and those that are not so are not at all truly conscientious; is so in all manner of conversation: "I have lived in all good conscience; have had my whole conversation under the direction and dominion of conscience." [4.] He continues so, and perseveres in it: "I have lived so until this day." Whatever changes pass over him, he is still the same, strictly conscientious. And those who thus live in all good conscience before God may, like Paul here, lift up their face without spot; and, if their hearts condemn them not, may have confidence both towards God and man, as Job had when he still held fast his integrity, and Paul himself, whose rejoicing was this, the testimony of his conscience.
II. The outrage of which Ananias the high priest was guilty: he commanded those that stood by, the beadles that attended the court, to smite him on the mouth (v. 2), to give him a dash on the teeth, either with a hand or with a rod. Our Lord Jesus was thus despitefully used in this court, by one of the servants (John xviii. 22), as was foretold, Mic. v. 1, They shall smite the Judge of Israel upon the cheek. But here was an order of court for the doing of it, and, it is likely, it was done. 1. The high priest was highly offended at Paul; some think, because he looked so boldly and earnestly at the council, as if he would face them down; others because he did not address himself particularly to him as president, with some title of honour and respect, but spoke freely and familiarly to them all, as men and brethren. His protestation of his integrity was provocation enough to one who was resolved to run him down and make him odious. When he could charge him with no crime, he thought it was crime enough that he asserted his own innocency. 2. In his rage he ordered him to be smitten, so to put disgrace upon him, and to be smitten on the mouth, as having offended with his lips, and in token of his enjoining him silence. This brutish and barbarous method he had recourse to when he could not answer the wisdom and spirit wherewith he spoke. Thus Zedekiah smote Micaiah (1 Kings xxii. 24), and Pashur smote Jeremiah (Jer. xx. 2), when they spoke in the name of the Lord. If therefore we see such indignities done to good men, nay, if they be done to us for well doing and well saying, we must not think it strange; Christ will give those the kisses of his mouth (Cant. i. 2) who for his sake receive blows on the mouth. And though it may be expected that, as Solomon says, every man should kiss his lips that giveth a right answer (Prov. xxiv. 26), yet we often see the contrary.
III. The denunciation of the wrath of God against the high priest for this wickedness in the place of judgment (Eccl. iii. 16): it agrees with what follows there, v. 17, with which Solomon comforted himself (I said in my heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked): God shall smite thee, thou whited wall, v. 3. 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, Matt. xxiii. 27. 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. Jeroboam's hand was withered when it was stretched out against a prophet. 3. He assigns a good reason for that doom: "For sittest thou there as president in the supreme judicature of the church, pretending to judge me after the law, to convict and condemn me by the law, and yet commandest me to be smitten before any crime is proved upon me, which is contrary to the law?" No man must be beaten unless he be worthy to be beaten, Deut. xxv. 2. It is against all law, human and divine, natural and positive, to hinder a man from making his defense, and to condemn him unheard. When Paul was beaten by the rabble, he could say, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do; but it is inexcusable in a high priest that is appointed to judge according to the law.
IV. The offence which was taken at this bold word of Paul's (v. 4): Those that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? It is a probable conjecture that those who blamed Paul for what he said were believing Jews, who were zealous for the law, and consequently for the honour of the high priest, and therefore took it ill that Paul should thus reflect upon him, and checked him for it. See here then, 1. What a hard game Paul had to play, when his enemies were abusive to him, and his friends were so far from standing by him, and appearing for him, that they were ready to find fault with his management. 2. How apt even the disciples of Christ themselves are to overvalue outward pomp and power. As because the temple had been God's temple, and a magnificent structure, there were those who followed Christ that could not bear to have any thing said that threatened the destruction of it; so because the high priest had been God's high priest, and was a man that made a figure, though he was an inveterate enemy to Christianity, yet these were disgusted at Paul for giving him his due.
V. The excuse that Paul made for what he had said, because he found it was a stumbling-block to his weak brethren, and might prejudice them against him in other things. These Jewish Christians, though weak, yet were brethren, so he calls them here, and, in consideration of that, is almost ready to recall his words; for who is offended, saith he, and I burn not? 2 Cor. xi. 29. His fixed resolution was rather to abridge himself in the use of his Christian liberty than give offence to a weak brother; rather than do this, he will eat no flesh while the world stands, 1 Cor. viii. 13. And so here though he had taken the liberty to tell the high priest his own, yet, when he found it gave offence, he cried Peccavi—I have done wrong. He wished he had not done it; and though he did not beg the high priest's pardon, nor excuse it to him, yet he begs their pardon who took offence at it, because this was not a time to inform them better, nor to say what he could say to justify himself. 1. He excuses it with this, that he did not consider when he said it to whom he spoke (v. 5): I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest—ouk edein. "I did not just then think of the dignity of his place, or else I would have spoken more respectfully to him." I see not how we can with any probability think that Paul did not know him to be the high priest, for Paul had been seven days in the temple at the time of the feast, where he could not miss of seeing the high priest; and his telling him that he sat to judge him after the law shows that he knew who he was; but, says he, I did not consider it. Dr. Whitby puts this sense upon it, that the prophetic impulse that was upon him, and inwardly moved him to say what he did, did not permit him to notice that it was the high priest, lest this law might have restrained him from complying with that impulse; but the Jews acknowledged that prophets might use a liberty in speaking of rulers which others might not, as Isa. i. 10, 23. Or (as he quotes the sense of Grotius and Lightfoot) Paul does not go about to excuse what he had said in the least, but rather to justify it; "I own that God's high priest is not to be reviled, but I do not own this Ananias to be high priest. He is a usurper; he came to the office by bribery and corruption, and the Jewish rabbin say that he who does so is neither a judge nor to be honoured as such." Yet, 2. He takes care that what he had said should not be drawn into a precedent, to the weakening of the obligation of that law in the least: For it is written, and it remains a law in full force, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. It is for the public good that the honour of magistracy should be supported, and not suffer for the miscarriages of those who are entrusted with it, and therefore that decorum be observed in speaking both of and to princes and judges. Even in Job's time it was not thought fit to say to a king, Thou art wicked, or to princes, You are ungodly, Job xxxiv. 18. Even when we do well, and suffer for it, we must take it patiently, 1 Pet. ii. 20. Not as if great men may not hear of their faults, and public grievances be complained of by proper persons and in a decent manner, but there must be a particular tenderness for the honour and reputation of those in authority more than of other people, because the law of God requires a particular reverence to be paid to them, as God's vicegerents; and it is of dangerous consequence to have those any way countenanced who despise dominions, and speak evil of dignities, Jude 8. Curse not the king, no not in thy thought, Eccl. x. 20.