Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 28, 1964

Bible Answers

Gene Frost, 1900 Jenny Lind, Fort Smith, Arkansas

Question: Please explain Acts 23:5. Was Paul making an apology for having spoken the truth or had he spoken evil to the high priest?

How are we to apply to our lives today the lesson taught in this verse?

ANSWER: After Paul had been apprehended in the city of Jerusalem, having been rescued from the mob at the temple, he was brought before the Sanhedrin council for examination. As he began his defense, the high priest Ananias commanded for him to be smitten on the mouth. Paul had professed to have lived in all good conscience before God." Apparently Ananias considered it impertinent of Paul to claim a good conscience, indicating that he thought Paul to be guilty and so impossible for him to have a good conscience. He thereby showed his disposition to judge without a hearing. This was in violation of the law of Moses, which the council was to uphold.

"Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great. (Deut. 1:17) This principle of trial before judgment was stated by Nicodemus: "Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" (John 7:51)

Naturally Paul was moved by righteous indignation. (Eph. 4:26) He countered to this person who had expressed a disrespect for the law, not knowing whom he addressed, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sitteth thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" Then they that stood by said, "Revilest thou God's high priest?" Thereupon Paul confessed that he did not know he had spoken to the high priest. Various reasons may be offered as to why Paul did not perceive him to he the high priest — he did not see who issued the command; the high priest did not wear any priestly robe by which to be identified; Paul's eye-sight was so poor that he did not recognize him — but these are of no real importance. The point is that Paul would not knowingly speak evil of an office appointed of God. He even quoted the law to this effect (Ex. 22:28) showing that he, though on trial, had a greater respect for the law than he who administered the law.

Paul did not apologize for having spoken the truth. (In fact, his professed respect for law intensified the rebuke.) But in respect of an office of authority established by God, he would have addressed Ananias in the office with respect had he known. Ananias, described as a usurper and grossly wicked by the historian Josephus, did at the time occupy the seat of authority. Paul respected that authority. The man that occupied it was not one whose life commanded respect, and as a man deserved the rebuke. Paul did not apologize for the rebuke; he had told the truth.

In application today, we need to recognize that authority is ordained of God. (Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:13-17) Authority itself, law and order, is to be respected. In addressing those who sit in seats of authority, we ought to show respect. This is not to express approval of their private lives, respect of a man who is ungodly. There is a time and place for reproof of such persons — one needs to recognize the circumstances under which a truthful reproof is administered so that a censure of an ungodly act be not confused with a denunciation of a position which is to be honored. This is the thing Paul clarified: he did not intend his rebuke to be a reflection against the high priesthood, the seat of authority among the people.