Acts 23:1
And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brothers, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XXIII.

(1) And Paul, earnestly beholding the council.—We note once more the characteristic word for the eager anxious gaze with which St. Paul scanned the assembly. He had not seen it since he had stood there among Stephen’s accusers, a quarter of a century ago. Many changes, of course, had come about in that interval, but some of the faces were probably the same; and at all events the general aspect of the Gazith, or Hall of Meeting, on the south side of the Temple, with its circular benches must have remained the same.

I have lived in all good conscience . . .—The verb for “I have lived” means literally, I have used my citizenship. It had ceased, however, to have this sharply defined meaning (see Note on the kindred substantive in Philippians 3:20), and had come to be used of the whole course of a man’s social conduct. Perhaps My mode of life has been in all good conscience, would be the nearest English equivalent. The reference to “conscience” may be noted as eminently characteristic of St. Paul. So we find him saying of himself that he had all his life served God with “a pure conscience” (2Timothy 1:3); that a “good conscience” is the end of the commandment (1Timothy 1:5); or, again, recognising the power of conscience even among the heathen (Romans 2:15). In the phrase “I know nothing by myself,” i.e., “I am conscious of no fault” (see Note on 1Corinthians 4:4), we have a like reference to its authority. Comp. also Acts 24:16; Romans 13:5; 1Corinthians 10:25. And in all these passages he assigns to conscience its true functions with an exact precision. It is not an infallible guide and requires illumination, and therefore each man needs to pray for light, but it is never right to act against its dictates, and that which is objectively the better course is subjectively the worse, unless the man in his heart believes it to be the better.

Acts 23:1-5. And Paul, earnestly beholding the council — At whose bar he was placed; manifesting a clear conscience by his very countenance; and likewise waiting to see whether any of them was minded to ask him any question; said, Men and brethren — Though I am brought before you as a malefactor, to be examined and judged by you, I have the comfort of being conscious to myself that I have lived in all good conscience before God — The Searcher of hearts; until this day — Whatever men may think or say of me. He speaks chiefly of the time since he became a Christian. For none questioned him concerning what he had been before. And yet, even in his unconverted state, although he was in error, yet he had acted from conscience before God. And the high-priest Ananias — Conscious of his inveterate enmity to Paul, and of the steps he had openly taken for his destruction, thinking himself insulted by such a solemn declaration of his innocence; commanded them that stood by him — At the bar; to smite him on the mouth — For what he represented as a most insolent assertion; which was accordingly done. Then said Paul — Being carried away by a sudden and prophetic impulse; God, τυπτειν σε μελλει, is about to smite thee, thou whited wall — Fair without; full of dirt and rubbish within. And he might well be so termed, not only as he committed this outrage while gravely sitting on the tribunal of justice, but also as, at the same time that he stood high in the esteem of the citizens, he cruelly defrauded the priests of their legal subsistence, so that some of them even perished for want. And God did remarkably smite him; for about five years after this, his house being reduced to ashes, in a tumult begun by his own son, he was besieged in the royal palace; where, having hid himself in an old aqueduct, he was dragged out and miserably slain. And they that stood by — Being greatly offended; said, Revilest thou God’s high-priest — Dost thou, who pretendest to so much religion, presume impiously to revile the most sacred person in our nation, and consequently in the whole world? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren Ουκ ηδει οτι εστιν αρχιερευς, I knew not, or, had not known; that he is the high-priest — That is, (as many understand him,) he did not advert to it, in the prophetic transport of his mind, that Ananias was the high-priest. But he does not say that his not adverting to it proceeded from the power of the Spirit coming upon him, as knowing that they were not able to bear it. But is it not more probable that his positive assertion here was the exact truth; and that, in fact, he did not know Ananias to be the high-priest? For, as Dr. Macknight justly observes, “Both the Roman governors and the Jewish princes had, for some time past, been in use to sell the high-priesthood to the best bidder; and sometimes to depose the person in office, that they might have it to sell anew. Wherefore, as Paul was but lately come from Greece, after five years’ absence, he may very well be supposed to have been ignorant of Ananias’s dignity, notwithstanding he might know him personally. It is alleged, indeed, that by his dress and seat in the council, Paul might have known Ananias to be the high-priest. But that does not seem probable; because, having looked steadfastly on the council at his first coming in, he would, by such an excuse, have exposed himself to ridicule, if Ananias could have been known to be the high-priest, either by his dress, or by his seat in the council.”23:1-5 See here the character of an honest man. He sets God before him, and lives as in his sight. He makes conscience of what he says and does, and, according to the best of his knowledge, he keeps from whatever is evil, and cleaves to what is good. He is conscientious in all his words and conduct. Those who thus live before God, may, like Paul, have confidence both toward God and man. Though the answer of Paul contained a just rebuke and prediction, he seems to have been too angry at the treatment he received in uttering them. Great men may be told of their faults, and public complaints may be made in a proper manner; but the law of God requires respect for those in authority.And Paul, earnestly beholding - ἀτενίσας atenisas. Fixing his eyes intently on the council. The word denotes "a fixed and earnest gazing; a close observation." See Luke 4:20. Compare the notes on Acts 3:4. Paul would naturally look with a keen and attentive observation on the council. He was arraigned before them, and he would naturally observe the appearance, and endeavor to ascertain the character of his judges. Besides, it was by this council that he had been formerly commissioned to persecute the Christians, Acts 9:1-2. He had not seen them since that commission was given. He would naturally, therefore, regard them with an attentive eye. The result shows, also, that he looked at them to see what was the character of the men there assembled, and what was the proportion of Pharisees and Sadducees, Acts 23:6.

The council - Greek: the Sanhedrin, Acts 22:30. It was the great council, composed of seventy elders, to whom was entrusted the affairs of the nation. See the notes on Matthew 1:4.

Men and brethren - Greek: "Men, brethren"; the usual form of beginning an address among the Jews. See Acts 2:29. He addressed them still as his brethren.

I have lived in all good conscience - I have conducted myself so as to maintain a good conscience. I have done what I believed to be right. This was a bold declaration, after the tumult, and charges, and accusations of the previous day Acts 22; and yet it was strictly true. His persecutions of the Christians had been conducted conscientiously, Acts 26:9, "I verily thought with myself," says he, "that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." Of his conscientiousness and fidelity in their service they could bear witness. Of his conscientiousness since, he could make a similar declaration. He doubtless meant to say that as he had been conscientious in persecution, so he had been in his conversion and in his subsequent course. And as they knew that his former life had been with a good conscience, they ought to presume that he had maintained the same character still. This was a remarkably bold appeal to be made by an accused man, and it shows the strong consciousness which Paul had of his innocence. What would have been the drift of his discourse in proving this we can only Conjecture. He was interrupted Acts 23:2; but there can be no doubt that he would have pursued such a course of argument as would tend to establish his innocence.

Before God - Greek: to God - τῷ Θεῷ tō Theō. He had lived to God, or with reference to his commands, so as to keep a conscience pure in his sight. The same principle of conduct he states more at length in Acts 24:16; "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men."

Until this day - Including the time before his conversion to Christianity, and after. In both conditions he was conscientious; in one, conscientious in persecution and error, though he deemed it to be right; in the other, conscientious in the truth. The mere fact that a man is conscientious does not prove that he is right or innocent. See the note on John 16:2.

CHAPTER 23

Ac 23:1-10. Paul's Defense before the Samhedrim Divides the Rival Factions, from Whose Violence the Commandant Has the Apostle Removed into the Fortress.

1. Paul, earnestly beholding the council—with a look of conscious integrity and unfaltering courage, perhaps also recognizing some of his early fellow pupils.

I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day—The word has an indirect reference to the "polity" or "commonwealth of Israel," of which he would signify that he had been, and was to that hour, an honest and God-fearing member.Acts 23:1-5 Paul, pleading his integrity, is smitten at the

command of the high priest, whom he reproveth of injustice.

Acts 23:6-9 By declaring himself a Pharisee, and questioned for the hope

of the resurrection, he causeth a division in the council.

Acts 23:10,11 He is carried back to the castle, and encouraged by the

Lord in a vision.

Acts 23:12-22 A conspiracy against him is discovered to the chief captain,

Acts 23:23-35 who sendeth him under a guard with a letter to Felix

the governor at Caesarea.

Said, Men and brethren; acknowledging himself to have descended from the patriarchs as well as they; and bespeaks, as much as he could, their favour and attention.

I have lived in all good conscience; not that he thought himself to have been without sin or fault, for he acknowledges and bewails his captivity to the law of sin, Romans 7:23,24; but that he was not conscious to himself of any notorious impiety (as sacrilege, which they accused him of); nay, he had not suffered willingly any sin to be, much less to reign, in him. And as for his persecuting of the Christians, he did it not to flatter any with it, or upon any sinister design whatsoever, but thinking to serve God by it, 1 Timothy 1:13.

Before God; in the sense of God’s seeing of him, and whom St. Paul acknowledges to be the searcher and knower of the heart and conscience.

And Paul earnestly beholding the council,.... Fastening his eyes upon them, looking wistly and intently at them, and thereby discovering a modest cheerfulness, and a becoming boldness, confidence, and intrepidity, as being not conscious of any guilt, and well assured of the goodness of his cause:

said, men and brethren; see Acts 22:1.

I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day; not only from the time of his conversion, but throughout the whole of his life; for though, strictly speaking, there is no good conscience but what is awakened by the Spirit of God, and is unprincipled by his grace, and is purged from sin by the blood of Christ; in which sense he could only have a good conscience, since he believed in Christ; yet whereas in his state of unregeneracy, and even while he was a blasphemer, and persecutor, he did not act contrary to the dictates of his conscience, but according to them, in which his view was to the glory of God, and the honour of his law; he therefore says he lived before God, or unto God, in all good conscience, though an erroneous and mistaken one; he thought he ought to do what he did; and what he did, he did with a zeal for God though it was not according to knowledge: besides, the apostle has here respect to his outward moral conversation, which, before and after conversion, was very strict, and even blameless, at least unblemished before men; nobody could charge him with any notorious crime, though he did not live without sin in the sight of the omniscient God.

And {1} Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

(1) Paul, against the false accusations of his enemies, displays a clear conscience, for proof of which he repeats the whole course of his life.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 23:1-2. Paul, with the free and firm look (ἀτενίσας τῷ συνεδρ.) in which his good conscience is reflected, commences an address in his own defence to the Sanhedrim, and that in such a way as—without any special testimony of respect (comp. Acts 4:8, Acts 12:2) for the sacred court, and with perfect freedom of apostolic self-reliance (which is recognisable in the simple ἅνδρες ἀδελφοί)—to appeal first of all to the pure self-consciousness of his working as consecrated to God. The proud and brutal (Joseph. Antt. xx. 8 f.) high priest sees in this nothing but insolent presumption, and makes him be stopped by a blow on the mouth from the continuance of such discourse.

πάσῃ συνειδ. ἀγ.] with every good conscience, so that in every case I had a good conscience, i.e. agreeing with the divine will (1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19; 1 Peter 3:16). Comp. on Acts 20:19.

In the ἐγώ at the commencement is implied a moral self-consciousness of rectitude.

πεπολίτευμαι τῷ Θεῷ] I have administered (and still administer, perfect) mine office for God, in the service of God (Romans 1:9); dative of destination. He thus designates his apostolic office in its relation to the divine polity of the church; see on Php 1:27.

ὁ δὲ ἀρχιερεὺς Ἀνανίας] Acts 23:4 proves that this (see Krebs, Obss. Flav. p. 244 ff.) was the high priest actually discharging the duties of the office at the time. He was the son of Nebedaeus (Joseph. Antt. xx. 5. 2), the successor of Joseph the son of Camydus (Antt. xx. 1. 3, 5. 2), and the predecessor of Ishmael the son of Phabi (Antt. xx. 8. 8, 11). He had been sent to Rome by Quadratus, the predecessor of Felix, to answer for himself before the Emperor Claudius (Antt. xx. 6. 2, Bell. ii. 12. 6); he must not, however, have thereby lost his office, but must have continued in it after his return. See Anger, de temp. rat. p. 92 ff. As Acts 23:4 permits for ὁ ἀρχιερ. only the strict signification of the high priest performing the duties, and not that of one of the plurality of ἀρχιερεῖς,[142] and as the deposition of Ananias is a mere supposition, the opinion defended since the time of Lightfoot, p. 119 (comp. ad Joh. p. 1077), by several more recent expositors (particularly Michaelis, Eichhorn, Kuinoel, Hildebrand, Hemsen), is to be rejected,—namely, that Ananias, deposed from the time of his suit at Rome, had at this time only temporarily administered (usurped) the office during an interregnum which took place between his successor Jonathan and the latter’s successor Ishmael. Against this view it is specially to be borne in mind, that the successor of Ananias was Ishmael, and not Jonathan (who had been at an earlier period high priest, Joseph. Antt. xviii. 4. 3, 5. 3); for in the alleged probative passages (Antt. xx. 8. 5, Bell. ii. 13. 3), where the murder of the ἀρχιερεύς Jonathan is recorded, this ἈΡΧΙΕΡ. is to be taken in the well-known wider titular sense. Lastly, Basnage (ad an. 56, § 24) quite arbitrarily holds that at this time Ishmael was already high priest, but was absent from the hastily (?) assembled Sanhedrim, and therefore was represented by the highly respected (Antt. xx. 9. 2) Ananias.

τοῖς παρεστ. αὐτῷ] to those who (as officers in attendance on the court) stood beside him, Luke 19:24.

τύπτ. αὐτοῦ τὸ στ.] to smite him on the mouth. Comp. as to the αὐτοῦ placed first, on John 9:15; John 11:32, al.

[142] In opposition to van Hengel in the Godgel. Bijdrag. 1862, p. 1001 ff., and Trip, p. 251 ff.Acts 23:1. ἀτενίσας, see on chap. Acts 1:10, “looking stedfastly,” R.V. The word denotes the fixed stedfast gaze which may be fairly called a characteristic of St. Paul. On this occasion the Apostle may well have gazed stedfastly on the Council which condemned Stephen, and although many new faces met his gaze, some of his audience were probably familiar to him. There is no need to suppose that the word implied weakness of sight (Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 38).—ἄνδ. ἀδελ.: the omission of πατέρες suggests that he addressed the assembly not as judges but as fellow-countrymen. On ἀδελ. see on Acts 1:15. It is of course possible, as Chrysostom observes, that he did not wish to appear εὐκαταφρόνητος before the chiliarch.—συνειδήσει: the word occurs no less than thirty times in N.T., R.V., so also in John 8:9, but 1 Corinthians 8:7, συνηθείᾳ, R.V., and of these no less than twenty times in St. Paul’s Epistles, twice in Acts, on both occasions by St. Paul, three times in 1 Peter, and five times in Hebrews. It may therefore be almost reckoned as a Pauline word. It does not occur at all in the Gospels (but cf. John 8:9), but it need hardly be said that our Lord distinctly appeals to its sanction, although the word is never uttered by Him. The N.T. writers found the word ready to their use. In Wis 17:10 (11) we have the nearest anticipation of the Christian use of the word, whilst it must not be forgotten that it first appears at least in philosophical importance amongst the Stoics. (In Ecclesiastes 10:20 it is used but in a different sense, and in Sir 42:18, but in the latter case the reading is doubtful, and if the word is retained, it is only used in the same sense as in Ecclesiastes 10:20.) It is used by Chrysippus of Soli, or Tarsus, in Cilicia, Diog. Laert., vii., 8, but not perhaps with any higher meaning than self-consciousness. For the alleged earlier use of the word by Bias and Periander, and the remarkable parallel expression ἀγαθὴ συνείδησις attributed to the latter, see W. Schmidt, Das Gewissen, p. 6 (1889), and for two quotations of its use by Menander, Grimm-Thayer, sub v.; cf. also Davison, The Christian Conscience (Fernley Lectures), 1888, sec. ii. and vi.; Cremer, Wörterbuch, sub v.; Sanday and Headlam, Romans 2:15, and for literature “Conscience,” Hastings’ B.D. For the scriptural idea of the word cf. also Westcott, additional note, on Hebrews 9:9.—πεπολ.: however loosely the word may have been used at a later date, it seems that when St. Paul spoke, and when he wrote to the Philippians, it embraced the public duties incumbent on men as members of a body, Hort, Ecclesia, p. 137, Lightfoot on Php 1:27 (Acts 3:20), cf. Jos., Vita, ii. St. Paul was a covenant member of a divine πολιτεία, the commonwealth of God, the laws of which he claims to have respected and observed. The word is also found in LXX, Esther 8:13 (H. and R.), 2Ma 6:1; 2Ma 11:25, and four times in 4 Macc. Lightfoot, u. s., parallels the use of the verb in Phil. by St. Paul from Clem. Rom., Cor[371], xxi. 1, and Polycarp, Phil., v., 5. But Clem. Rom., u. s., vi., 1, has the phrase ποῖς ἀνδράσιν ὁσίως πολιτευσαμένοις, referring to the O.T. Saints, and so St. Peter and St. Paul. To this latter expression Deissmann, Bibelstudien, i., p. 211, finds a parallel in the fragment of a letter dating about 164 B.C. (Pap., Par., 63, coll. 8 and 9), τοῖς θεοῖς πρὸς οὓς ὁσίως καὶδικαίως (πολι)τευσάμενος.—τῷ Θεῷ: in another moment of danger at the close of his career, 2 Timothy 1:3, the Apostle again appeals to a higher tribunal than that of the Sanhedrim or of Caesar. For the dative of the object cf. Romans 14:18, Galatians 2:19.—ἄχρι ταύτης τῆς ἡμ., emphatic, because the Apostle wished to affirm that he was still in his present work for Christ a true member of the theocracy, cf. Romans 9:1 ff.

[371] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.Acts 23:1-10. St Paul before the Sanhedrin. Disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees

1. And Paul, earnestly beholding the council] The verb is one which St Luke very frequently employs to note a speaker’s expression at the commencement of a speech, and it is one of those features in the Acts which shew us where the compiler has acted as editor to the narratives which he used. He very generally gives some word to indicate the gesture or look of the person who speaks. This verb is often rendered in A.V. “looking stedfastly” and that rendering the Rev. Ver. gives here.

Men and brethren] Better, “Brethren.” See note on Acts 1:16.

I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day] The pronoun “I” is emphatically inserted in the Original. It is as though the Apostle would say, ‘You see me before you as though I were an offender, but personally I feel myself innocent.’ The verb is one which in profane authors signifies ‘to discharge the duties of a citizen.’ St Paul implies by its use that he has been obedient to God’s laws, as a good citizen would be to the laws of his country. So far as being devoted to God’s service, his whole life up to the present moment had been of one piece, it was only that his conscience had been enlightened, and so his behaviour had changed. He had at first lived as a conscientious and observant Jew, his conscience now approved his conduct as a Christian.Acts 23:1. Ἀτενίσας, having earnestly fixed, his eyes upon) with a countenance indicative of a good conscience; waiting also to see whether anyone of the chief priests was about to ask any question.—ἐγὼ, I) By this protestation he gained his point, that no former act of his could be alleged as a charge against him, but that that truth which he was about to assert in the end of Acts 23:6, might be brought forward as the one and only cause of his imprisonment: ch. Acts 24:21.—συνειδήσει, conscience) ch. Acts 24:16; 2 Corinthians 1:12. Paul speaks especially of his state after conversion: for concerning his former state no one moved any controversy with him. And yet even in his former state, although he was labouring under error, he had obeyed conscience, and had not committed aught which could constitute him guilty before the bar of external justice. Now, since he has not cast away whatever of good he formerly had, but has received better goods, the light was pouring itself out of his present state into his former state.—τῷ Θεῷ, before God) although all men did not approve of it.Verse 1. - Looking steadfastly on for earnestly beholding, A.V.; brethren for men and brethren, A.V.; I have lived before God, etc., for I have lived, etc., before God, A.V. Looking steadfastly; ἀτενίσας, as in Acts 1:10; Acts 3:4, 12; Acts 6:15; Acts 7:55; Acts 10:4; Acts 11:6; Acts 13:9; Acts 14:9. It governs a dative here, as in Acts 3:12; Acts 10:1; Acts 14:9; Luke 4:20; Luke 22:56; elsewhere it is followed by εἰς. Brethren. He emits here the "fathers" which he added in Acts 22:1. If there is any special significance in the omission, it may be that he meant now to assume a less apologetic tone, and to speak as an equal to equals. Howson and Lewin think that he spoke as being, or having been, himself a member of the Sanhedrim. But he may have meant merely a friendly address to his countrymen. I have lived, etc. πεπολέτευμαι τῷ Θεῷ); comp. Philippians 3:20; I have had my conversation (vitam degi) unto God, or, for God, i.e. according to the will of God, with a view to God as the end of all my actions. So Josephus ('De Maccabeis,' sect. 4) says that Antiochus Epiphanes made a law that all Jews should be put to death οἵτινες φάνριεν τῷ πατοίω νόμω πολιτευόμενοι "who were seen to live according to the Law of their fathers." And so in 2 Macc. 6:1 it is said that he sent to compel the Jews to forsake the Law of their fathers - καὶ τοῖ τοῦ Θεοῦ νόμοις μὴ πολιτεύεσθαι ( ανδ not live agreeably to the laws of God. And once more, in 3Macc. 3:3, 4 the Jews are said to fear God and to be τῷ τούτου νόμῳ πολιτευόμενοι, living according to his Law. Here, then, πολιτεύεσθι τῷ Θεῷ means to live in obedience to God. St. Paul boldly asserts his undeviating compliance with the Law of God, as a good and consistent Jew (Philippians 3:6). Earnestly beholding

See on Luke 4:20. Some, who hold that Paul's eyesight was defective, explain this steadfast look in connection with his imperfect vision.

Men and brethren

He addresses the Sanhedrim as an equal.

I have lived (πεπολίτευμαι)

Lit., have lived as a citizen, with special reference to the charge against him that he taught men against the law and the temple. He means that he has lived as a true and loyal Jew.

Conscience (συνειδήσει)

See on 1 Peter 3:16.

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