I am truly a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel…
I am verily a man which am a Jew. This remarkable speech was addressed to a particular audience, under particular circumstances, and it was precisely adapted to that audience. It took careful account of their knowledge and of their prejudices. It was conciliatory in tone, but firm to the truth and manly in spirit. It is impossible for us to admire too highly the calmness and the self-command of the apostle under such perilous circumstances. Instances may be given from political life of the power of a skilful orator to sway an excited mob, such as that of Lamartine in times of the French Revolution. The introduction of this homily should deal with
(1) the scene;
(2) the audience;
(3) the orator.
1. The scene. Dean Plumptre has the following suggestive note: - "The position was one which raised him (St. Paul) above the people, and the characteristic gesture commanded instant attention. And he spoke, not as they expected, in the Greek, which belonged to one who fraternized with the Gentiles, but in the Hebrew, or Aramaic, which he had studied at the feet of Gamaliel. It was a strange scene for that Feast of Pentecost. The face and form of the speaker may have been seen from time to time by some during his passing visits to Jerusalem; but there must have been many who had not heard him take part in public action since the day when, twenty-five years before, he had kept the garments of those who were stoning Stephen. And now he was there, accused of the selfsame crimes, making his defense before a crowd as wild and frenzied as that of which he had then been the leader."
2. The audience. Notice that it was largely composed of foreign Jews, who were present at the feast; and that those foreign Jews were often more intensely bigoted than the Jerusalem Jews, - they would certainly have more knowledge of St. Paul, and more personally antagonistic feelings against him. Some of them had recognized him, and raised the excitement which nearly led to his death. Show how utterly unreasonable such a mob becomes; no appeal can be made to their intelligence; usually they can only be dispersed by force, or their excitement must be allowed to spend itself and wear itself out.
3. The orator; a weak, frail man, with a personal presence which men called contemptible, but with the natural gift for swaying an audience. As soon as he spoke men were hushed to listen, as they always are when the born orator stands before them. Perhaps St. Paul's gifts as a writer have filled our thought, so that we have not duly recognized what a splendid "command of men" he had in his great gift of speech. The point which he sought to impress on his audience on this occasion was the "sincerity of his Judaism." That was the thing impugned. He was declared to be such an unworthy Jew that he had defiled the temple by bringing an Ephesian Gentile into it. The proper answer was a full declaration of his honest and complete loyalty to Judaism. This he made -
I. BY ADDRESSING THEM IN THE HEBREW TONGUE. Not in Gentile Greek. "It might be that he did this simply because they understood it better, but it may have been also because, as the language showed him to be a countryman of their own, they were disposed to think him less guilty than the Asian Jews had represented him to be" (F. Bungener). "One who spoke in Hebrew was not likely to blaspheme the sacred Hebrew books."
II. BY ASSURING THEM OF HIS LIFELONG LOYALTY TO HEBREW PRINCIPLES. His birth was unquestionably Jewish. His education was most distinctly Jewish; for he was even educated at Jerusalem, and by their most honored teacher. His Judaism was so sincere and so intense that he had been the most active and energetic persecutor of the Nazarenes. And Ananias, the well-known devout Jew, had brought God's commands to him (ver. 12).
III. BY AFFIRMING THAT, IF HE SEEMED TO HAVE TAKEN A NEW LINE, HE HAD ONLY OBEYED JEHOVAH, THE GOD OF THEIR HEBREW FATHERS. This is the point of St. Paul's advance. Jehovah had appeared to him, had given him special directions, and, as a loyal Jew, he could only obey those directions. Jehovah had shown him that Jesus was Messiah. Jehovah had sent him forth on his mission among the Gentiles. He had never dishonored Judaism, never broken with it. He was still the same "born Jew" as ever (ver. 14). - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.
WEB: "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strict tradition of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, even as you all are this day.