Acts 22:1–29 . . .
“Paul Defends Himself to the Jews in Jerusalem”
If you were asked this morning, “What's the most difficult, intimidating, scary task that the Lord has given us as Christians?” what would your answer be? Likely, you'd answer that it's "sharing our faith with others." However, one of the easiest and most natural ways of sharing your faith with others is to present them with your personal testimony.
Acts 22 starts with Paul giving his personal testimony before a Jewish mob. He divides it into three sections: His life before conversion (vv. 1–5); the circumstances of his conversion (vv. 6–16); and his commission after his conversion (vv. 17–21). Let's see if we can pull out a number of practical lessons on personally sharing your faith and your testimony with others.
Looking for and Finding Common Ground (22:1–5)
Notice in the first five verses how Paul masterfully builds bridges between himself and these angry Jews. He knows that he’s going to have to find a way to relate to them and build credibility with them, if they're ever going to listen to what he has to say. So, what does he do? He emphasizes their common spiritual heritage — their Jewishness. He really had much in common with these Jews, so he carefully emphasized that.
Paul began very respectfully by greeting them as "Brothers and fathers" (v. 1). He didn’t say, “You mob of blaspheming religious infidels!” No, he addressed them respectfully as Jewish brethren and Jewish fathers. When he addressed the Jews, he spoke in Aramaic, their mother tongue. This was just another little way that Paul was building common ground with his audiences (v. 2). He was a Jew and spoke Aramaic, just as they did.
His “I am a Jew” were the next few words out of his mouth (v. 3), telling them that they had their Jewishness in common. When he said, “Born in Tarsus of Cilicia,” he confirmed that he was from a city known for its great learning and that he was enlightened and cultured. By adding, “Brought up in this city . . . educated under Gamaliel,” he assured all that he'd been brought up in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, the city of God. Paul’s Jewishness was incontrovertible, since he was a disciple of Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the day, and the leader of the school of Hillel. Stating that he was “thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors,” he again identified himself with his audience, both of whom had lived strictly according to the Law of God. With his words, “being zealous for God just as you all are today,” he confirmed that he lived just as they lived: a Jew who was extremely zealous for God.
How did Paul show his zeal for God? He demonstrated his hearty zeal for God by declaring, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death” (v. 4). He'd persecuted Christians who differed from his own faith. He bound and put both men and women in prison. When he said in v. 5, “. . . as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify,” he was intimating: If you doubt my word, just ask the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin. They're still alive and they'll verify my words!
Conversion Recalled (vv. 6–16)
Then Paul moved on to tell about his dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. He underscored the miraculous character of the vision and its aftermath: the unearthly light that burst upon him, the voice of a man who'd died but rose, the strange blindness that descended on him, and his instant recovery at the hand of Ananias. All these happenings made it hard to dismiss Paul’s story as mere imagination. Yet those men who were with Paul when the vision occurred told him later that they saw the light as he'd seen it. Before the incident, they shared his hostility to the Way, so they had no reason to confirm any claim that he'd make afterward unless it was true.
Next, Paul tried to show that his life's ministry also had a supernatural basis. During his vision on the road to Damascus, Christ had revealed that Paul would be given a special assignment to accomplish (v. 10). Later, in Damascus, the same Ananias verified the words of the vision when he prophesied under the influence of the Spirit that Paul "will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard."
The Lord’s Direction in Paul’s Life (vv. 17–21)
A few years after his conversion, Paul came to Jerusalem where he visited the temple. There, while praying, he fell into a trance and heard Christ's voice (v. 17). In his recollection of this incident, Paul was again trying to show the crowd that his faith in Christ arose from divine intervention in his life. He'd actually spoken with the risen Christ on more than one occasion: on his way to Damascus and while he was in this trance.
Christ commanded him to leave Jerusalem. He said that to stay and share his testimony with the Jews would be futile; they'd simply reject him (v. 18). Paul protested that the Jews knew how bitterly he'd opposed the Way, even to the point of imprisoning believers and applauding the stoning of Steven (v. 20). It was obvious that his complete turnaround could only be explained as a work of God. But Christ declined to debate with Paul. He simply repeated his command, saying emphatically, "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles."
We can't but wonder why Paul told the crowd about Christ’s earlier instruction to leave Jerusalem. The reason he shouldn't stay in Jerusalem was that its people were too hard-hearted and obstinate to receive sound preaching. This turn in Paul’s speech hardly seems a good line of argument if he was trying to win the crowd’s support. He must have simply said what came to mind. Christ's warning of rejection filled his thoughts when he saw its fulfillment in the faces before him, all seething with passion to take his life.
Paul Is Rejected (vv. 22–23)
It seems that Paul hoped that when the Jews heard his testimony from his own mouth, they'd perceive his sincerity and recognize truth. Surely, they'd understand that Paul wouldn't have put his life in constant jeopardy by preaching Christ unless he had sound reasons for believing he was right. Undoubtedly, when they heard his reasons, resting on firsthand experience of heavenly things, they'd surely believe him. But no, Paul's first mention of the Gentiles rekindled the madness of the mob. They exploded in hateful denunciations of him, shouting that he deserved to die. To show how scandalized they were by his testimony, they cast off their outer cloaks and threw dust in the air, as documented well in the second video clip, as seen here and linked below.
Paul Narrowly Escapes Flogging (vv. 24–30)
When the Roman officer saw that Paul's speech to the crowd merely incited them to greater wildness, he lost patience with him and ordered his soldiers to carry Paul into the fortress. He further ordered that they examine him, first by flogging him with a lash (v. 24) until he was so desperate to escape from further pain that he'd tell them everything they wanted to know. This method of extracting a confession from a suspected criminal was standard procedure for Roman rulers when dealing with non-Roman subjects; Claudius naturally assumed that Paul was an ordinary Jewish subject without special rights.
But as they prepared Paul for his lashing by binding him with cords, and perhaps tying him to a post so that he couldn't move, he protested, calling out to the centurion nearby that he was being treated illegally (v. 25). He was a Roman citizen he stated; and Roman law protected a citizen from punishment if he hadn't been found guilty in a proper trial. Moreover, it declared that a citizen couldn't be subjected to any punishment so humiliating and brutal as scourging.
The centurion recognized the impropriety in what they were doing and immediately informed his superior that Paul was a Roman citizen (v. 26). He cautioned his superior against torturing the prisoner. Seeing the wisdom in his advice, the captain went to question Paul personally, asking if Paul was indeed a Roman (v. 27), and Paul answered, "Yes." The captain was astonished. The man before him didn't look like a Roman; he was obviously a Jew. The captain blurted out that he himself had been able to obtain citizenship only by paying a large sum of money (v. 28). Implicit in his words was disbelief that Paul was wealthy enough to obtain citizenship in such a way. After being manhandled by the mob, he didn't look like an imposing figure. His clothing was in tatters, and his face was covered by dirt and blood. Moreover, if the captain was able to discount the effects of the beating, he could see that what Paul wore to the temple was hardly the ostentatious dress of someone who was rich; wealthy men normally wore expensive rings and other badges of their wealth (James 2:2–3). Also, as the captain heard Paul’s speech to the crowd, he may have understood enough to surmise that Paul was a man devoted to a religious life rather than to business or other worldly affairs. Perhaps he even recognized that Paul was a rabbi. Therefore, it came as a great surprise when he learned that Paul was Roman. He wondered, How could he have afforded such a privilege?
Paul replied that he hadn't bought citizenship; he'd inherited it from his father. History records that many Jews in Asia Minor were granted Roman citizenship long before. There's evidence that Tarsus received Jews as citizens of their city as early as 171 BC. Later, when Asia Minor fell under the control of the Roman general Pompey in about 60 BC, descendants of these Jews received Roman citizenship.
Luke concludes this week’s passage by telling us that as soon as the captain was satisfied that Paul was telling the truth, he called off the scourging and pondered what to do. He was afraid of mistreating Paul. The Romans were successful as a conquering nation in part because they believed in the rule of law and treated any breach of their own law as a serious matter. If a lower official like Claudius failed to carry out due process, his career might have ended. Claudius was especially fearful because he'd already broken the law by putting an uncondemned Roman citizen in bonds. As we'll see in next week's meeting, the realization that he was at fault shaped his later conduct toward Paul, the result being to benefit Paul significantly.
- Q. 1 Instead of preaching to others, Paul told them his own story. Will you make a hearty effort this month to describe to someone your relationship with Jesus?
- Q. 2 Why does Paul's reference to the Gentiles (v. 21) upset the crowd (v. 22) whereas they didn't react to his speaking about Jesus?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 22.]
† Watch these "Visual Bible" video clips: Acts 21:6–22:17 and 22:18–24:12", starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
22 1“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”
2When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.
Then Paul said: 3“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
6“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
8“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
10“‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
12“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.
14“Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
17“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’
19“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
21“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
Paul the Roman Citizen
22The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
23As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”
26When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”
27The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered.
28Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”
“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.
29Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.