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Paul’s Crime

We learned from our sermon last Lord’s Day that Paul had been drug from the temple and beaten by the Jews who were in Jerusalem. The arrival of the Roman tribune, along with his soldiers, saved Paul from being beaten to death. The tribune immediately arrested Paul, assuming that he was guilty of a crime, and then tried to learn the details of that crime by asking the Jews what Paul’s crime was. The Jews could not agree upon their charges and so the tribune took Paul back to the barracks in the Fortress Antonia. Once there, the tribune had intended on whipping Paul into confessing his crime, but when he found out that Paul was a Roman citizen he realized that Paul could not be whipped without first having a fair trial.

Our sermon text for this coming Lord’s Day will be Acts 22:30-23:11. This text describes the tribune’s third attempt to learn what Paul’s crime was. The tribune commands the council of the Jews to meet in order to question Paul and determine his crime. But Paul does not want to play this game. Paul answers them with a “red herring,” deliberately pitting the Pharisees against the Sadducees and causing an uproar within the council. The tribune as compelled to rapidly escort Paul away from the council in order to protect Paul’s life.

When dealing with this passage, we’re forced to focus on the Christian’s requirement to tell the truth. There are two incidents of, what some people call, “deliberate deception” by Paul. The first incident is in 23:5 where Paul says that he didn’t know that Ananias was the high priest. On the surface, it would appear as though Paul was lying because we know Paul knew who Ananias was. Yet there are some technicalities that we need to consider, as well.

The second “deliberate deception” is in 23:6, where Paul answers the council by telling them he was on trial because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead. Yet if we go back to last week’s sermon, the charges the Jews had brought against Paul had nothing to do with his belief in the resurrection of the dead. What they specifically were charging Paul with was (1) not upholding the law and (2) bringing a Gentile into the temple (21:28).

So the challenge we have before us this week is to understand why Paul appears to be deliberately deceiving the leaders of the Jewish council. Is Paul guilty of lying? Or is there a legitimate moral loophole that Paul is aware of that permits him to mislead the council? Our passages ends in 23:11 with Jesus appearing to Paul and apparently approving of the testimony that Paul gave to the council.