This chapter describes Paul’s journey back to Jerusalem, after he is repeatedly warned not to go back there. What’s up with all the prophesy? (v 4, 9, and 10) In 19:19 we were told that sorcery was a bad thing- oh, yeah, when it’s the other guy’s religion, it’s bad, but when it’s your own, it’s OK. Paul refuses to heed the naysayers, so we know there’s trouble brewing, and sure enough, it’s those pesky Jews again, accusing Paul of ignoring the laws of Moses… How to avoid further trouble? Put on a show of obedience (v 23-26). Participate in a ‘purification ritual’ (after hobnobbing with Gentiles, Paul would have been considered ‘ceremonially unclean’ and needed to purify himself) along with 4 locals (likely Nazarenes) who have completed their vows. Give the outward appearance of following religious custom so you can blend in – funny, that’s what a lot of people still have to do to avoid censure from family or community.
Paul doesn’t get away with it, though. The Jews find him in the temple and start a riot, which brings in the Roman army. I wonder if there is any historical evidence for this? The description seems a little far-fetched, but a quick search didn’t turn up any proof one way or the other. However, I did find that there were Roman soldiers permanently stationed in the tower of Antonia, charged with the responsibility of watching for and suppressing any disturbances at the festivals of the Jews. To reach the affected area they would have had to come down a flight of steps into temple precincts as described. But did they lift Paul onto their shoulders to protect him? (v 35), and then allow him to address the crowd? (v 40) Doesn’t seem likely.
Oh man, I sense another speech in the offing. I wonder about the identity of the Egyptian mentioned in v 38 – was this a real event? I couldn’t really find anything, but some apologists seem to think that a passage written by Josephus fills the bill. I’m not convinced, but here it is if you want to read it yourself. Other scholars, however, think it’s possible that Luke used Josephus as a source for this passage and got the facts mixed up. See the ‘passages of disputed historical accuracy’ section on this page.
Paul tells the crowd his testimony, mostly the same stuff we read about in chapter 9. Except this time, he says the men with him on the road to Damascus didn’t hear the voices. Memory lapse? Or Paul just can’t keep his stories straight? Compare 9:7 with 22:9, and notice the clever way modern bible versions disguise the discrepancy. The KJV clearly states ‘hearing a voice’ vs ‘heard not the voice’. But the NLT says ‘heard the sound of someone’s voice’ vs ‘didn’t understand the voice’. Nice cover-up! Paul drones on, pleading his case. But the Jews don’t buy it, and the Romans arrest and prepare to scourge him (on what grounds is not clear – inciting the riot, maybe?).
Here my apologist commentary mentions that “From now until the end of the Book of Acts, Paul will be in Roman custody. As far as this book is concerned, this was the end of his time as a free man, though not the end of his witness or his usefulness to God and Gods people.” But Paul uses his ‘get out of jail free’ card, by announcing that he is a Roman citizen. It appears that Roman law was a 2-tiered system – citizens had more rights and were treated substantially more humanely than non-citizens. This allowed Paul to escape torture and face the Sanhedrin (the Jewish high council) instead.
So Paul pleads his innocence to the high priest, Ananias. This is yet another Ananias from the two we have met before. This guy is Ananias son of Nedebaios, a high priest from about AD 47 to 52. Quadratus, governor of Syria, accused him of being responsible for acts of violence. He was sent to Rome for trial (AD 52), but was acquitted by the emperor Claudius. Being a friend of the Romans, he was murdered by the people at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War. (Wikipedia)
The timeline doesn’t seem quite right here, since Paul’s third missionary trip supposedly took place between roughly 54-58, yet Ananias was high priest from 47-52. But I’m finding that’s typical of all the events in Acts (and it’ll be the same in the upcoming Epistles); nothing quite jives. Anyway, Paul’s protestation of innocence ticks the guy off, so he retaliates and Paul calls him a hypocrite. Then Paul cleverly divides the council by raising the issue of resurrection, always good for an argument (or worse), so the soldiers pull Paul away from the ruckus. That night, Paul is hearing voices again (v 11).
Next, those pesky Jews are conspiring again to kill Paul – going on a hunger strike this time. But their plan is foiled when they are overheard. Seriously, this story reads like a script from a low-budget movie, it’s so predictable and trite. The commander orders 470(!!) men to escort and protect Paul as he is whisked away to Governor Felix (the Roman procurator of Judaea Province 52-58), in Caesarea. Excessive, much?