The Orthodox Pages



5th February 2015









































































































































Continuing our study of the Acts of the Apostles, up till now we have covered twenty chapters and there remains another eight with only today and one more week before we break up for Lent. That means that today we must cover four chapters so I will be leaving out some of the less interesting details. Last time we finished with Paul giving his farewell speech to the presbyters of Ephesus and boarded the ship for his journey to Jerusalem where the Holy Spirit had told him bonds and afflictions await him.
Chapter twenty one begins with the ships route which first went to Coos, then Rhodes and then to Patara. From here they took another ship that was heading for Phenicia and passed under Cyprus and came to Tyre of Syria. Here they find certain disciples and stayed there seven days until the ship had unloaded her merchandise and reloaded with other merchandise for Caesarea. The disciples at Tyre had been told by the Holy Spirit of what awaits Paul at Jerusalem and tried to persuade him not to go. When the ship was ready to leave again they departed and all the Christians with their wives and children accompanied them to the shore where everyone kneeled and prayed. From Tyre they sailed to Ptolemais and then reached Caesarea where they entered the house of Philip, one of the Seven Deacon and stayed with him. Philip had four daughters who had dedicated themselves to the Lord and had the gift of prophecy. After many days they left for Judea where a prophet named Agabus came to Paul and taking his girdle, bound his hands and feet and said: so shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owns this girdle and shall deliver him into the hands of the gentiles. Hearing this, his disciples and others who were there pleaded with him not to go to Jerusalem. Paul answered: why do you weep and break my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for Jesus at Jerusalem. When the disciples realized that Paul would not be persuaded they continued their journey and went up to Jerusalem. There they stayed at the house of an old disciple named Mnason who was originally from Cyprus.
The following day Paul, Luke and others who were with them when to James the Lord's brother where all the elders had gathered together. Paul saluted them and told them of all the things God had made possible among the gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it they glorified God, but had some bad news for Paul. Many thousands of Jews believed in Christ, but at the same time were very zealous of the law. They had heard that Paul teaches all the Jews who live among the gentiles to forsake the Law of Moses, that they shouldn't circumcise their children and to abandon the old customs. If you remember the decision of the Apostolic Council, circumcision was not essential for the gentiles who embraced Christianity, but all those of Jewish descent still had to observe the Law of Moses. Somehow the Jerusalem Jewish Christians had misheard and thought that Paul spoke against circumcision even among the Jews and because they would have heard that Paul was in Jerusalem they would demand that Paul explain himself. The elders come up with a plan that will show everyone that Paul, as a Jew, still observes the Law of Moses. There were four men who had made a Nazarite vow. A couple of weeks ago we saw that Paul himself had made such a vow which for thirty days they had to abstain from alcohol and then shave their heads and throw the hairs into the fire of the sacrificial altar at the Jerusalem Temple. The elders therefore advice Paul to purify himself with these four men and then to shave his head with them so that everyone will see that he walks according to the law and that the charges made against him are false.
So Paul took the men and purified himself with them and entered the temple to make the usual offering. The Jewish Christians would have been satisfied that what they had heard about Paul was false, but Paul had a bigger problem. At the temple were Jews who came for the feast of Pentecost from Asia, probably Ephesus, who from the beginning had persecuted Paul and wanted him dead. When they saw him in the temple they stirred up the people and took hold of him. They called for others to help them saying: this is the man that teaches everywhere against the people and the Law and this place, and not only this, he has brought idol worshipping Greeks into the temple and has polluted this holy place. According to the law, bringing an idol worshipper into the temple was a crime punishable by death. What had happened was that they had seen Trophimus, an Ephesian Greek with Paul in the city and they had supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

The Jews, hearing that Paul had brought in a Greek into the temple, took hold of him and threw him out of the temple and closed the doors. As they were planning how to kill him, word came to the chief captain of the band, whose quarters were next to the temple, that Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions with him and went to see what the uproar was about and when the Jews saw him they stopped beating Paul. The chief captain whose name is given later as Lysias, had Paul bound with two chains and demanded to know who he was. The crowd was in such an uproar that he couldn't make out what they were saying so he commanded that Paul be taken into the castle. As he was being carried up the stairs of the castle the people had followed shouting away with him. Paul then asked the chief captain if he could speak to him. The chief captain was surprised that Paul spoke to him in Greek and said: are you not that Egyptian who some time ago made an uproar and led four thousand men who were murderers into the wilderness? Paul told him that he was a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a great city in Asia Minor, and I beseech you to let me speak to the people. The chief captain gave him permission and Paul standing on the stairs, beckoned with his hand to the people to hear him. When there was silence he spoke to them in the Hebrew tongue.
Chapter twenty two. He begins his defence by saying that he is a Jew, born in Tarsus, but was brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of his teacher Gamaliel and was taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers and was zealous towards god just as they are. He told them how he persecuted the Christians, both men and women, binding them and delivering them into prisons and how he had received letters from the high priests giving his authority to go to Damascus and arrest the Christians there and bring them bound to Jerusalem to be punished. He then explains to them how on the road to Damascus at noon he had a vision of a great light from heaven and fell to the ground and a voice said to him Saul, why do you persecute me? When he asked who spoke to him the voice said that he was Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute. Everyone who was with him saw the light but only he heard the voice. The Lord told him to go to Damascus and seek out a devout man named Ananias who would tell him what to do. He tells them how because of the glory of that light he was left blind and had to be led by the hand and when he had found Ananias his sight was restored to him. And Ananias told him how he had been chosen to be a witness unto all men and instructed him and baptised him in the name of the Lord. He continues saying that he came to Jerusalem and while praying in the temple the Lord told him to get out of Jerusalem quickly because the Jews would not receive his testimony concerning him. But he answered the Lord saying that the people know that he imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believe on him and when the blood of his martyr Stephen was shed, he also was standing by and consented to his death and kept the garments of them that slew him. But the Lord insisted that he leave Jerusalem and that he would send him out to the gentiles.
All the while Paul was speaking, the people gave him audience, but then they started to shout: Away with such a person from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live. And as they shouted they cast off their clothes and threw dust into the air. Seeing the commotion, the chief captain commanded that Paul be brought into the castle and be interrogated with the whip so that Paul would be forced to confess his guilt and thereby the chief captain would know why the people were so much against him. Paul was then bound to some pillar or pole and as the centurion was ready to whip him he said: is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, be careful what you do with this man because he is a Roman. So the chief captain came to Paul and asked him if he was a Roman citizen and Paul answered that he was. The chief captain was surprised and said that he had paid a great sum to obtain this freedom and Paul reply, but I was born free. We are not told how Paul obtained his Roman citizenship, but as it was inherited it is possible that his father of some other ancestor had done some kind of heroic act and was rewarded by being made a Roman citizen.
When the chief captain was sure that Paul was a Roman citizen, he was afraid because he had unlawfully had him bound and stopped his interrogation of him. But wanting to know the reason why he was accused by the Jews, the next day he commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear and brought down Paul and set him before them.
Chapter twenty three. Standing before the Jewish council Paul addresses them saying: men and brethren, I have lived in all conscience before God until this day. The previous day he had addressed them as fathers, but now he calls them brethren, possibly because they didn't act as fathers, but more like wild animals. The high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by Paul to smite him on the mouth. This was probably because he sensed a lack of respect by being referred to as brother or because Paul spoke without first being given leave. Having been hit in the face, Paul tells the high priest: God will smite you, you whited wall, because you sit to judge me according to the law, yet you commanded me to be smitten contrary to the law. Paul labelled him as a whited wall to declare his hypocrisy as did Christ when he called the Pharisees whited sepulchres, which appear beautiful outward, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. But Paul's whited wall is different from Christ's whited sepulchre. In those times they didn't have indoor plumbing like we have today. In the cities there were designated areas where the public could urinate. Usually these incorporated a wall with a drain at its base that would allow the urine to drain to an appropriate area. These became quite smelly so they used to dust the wall regularly with lime dust. The Hebrew word for the dusting is koniao which is translated as whitened.
Of the high priest Ananias, the Jewish historian Josephus tells us that he was known for his avarice and liberal use of violence. He confiscated for himself the monies given to the ordinary priests and gave lavish bribes to the Romans. He was a brutal and scheming man, hated by Jewish nationalists for his pro-Roman policies. When the war with Rome began in A.D. 66, the nationalists burned his house and he was forced to flee to the palace of Herod the Great in the northern part of Jerusalem. Ananias was finally trapped while hiding in an aqueduct on the palace grounds and was killed along with his brother Hezekiah.
So Paul having cursed the high priest that God would strike him and having insulted him by comparing him to a whited wall and a hypocrite for not observing the law, those that stood by him reprimanded him for cursing and insulting the high priest. Paul replied that he didn't know that he was the high priest otherwise he would have shown respect because it is written - you shall not speak evil of the ruler of the people. Now did Paul really not know who the high priest was or was he speaking ironically because a high priest had to respect the law, but Ananias transgressed the law to the point that he didn't allow an accused person to speak and defend himself? Well it seems that Paul was telling the truth. The appointing of the Jerusalem high priest had become political and since AD 43 the Emperor Claudius gave this responsibility to Herod of Chalcis, the grandson of Herod the Great. He appointed Ananias as high priest in AD 47. When Herod of Chalcis died in AD 48 the responsibility for appointing the high priest was given to Herod Agrippa II.

In AD 52, Quadratus, the governor of Syria, accused Ananias of being responsible for acts of violence against the Samaritans and was sent to be tried at Rome. He was acquitted by the emperor Claudius, however he did not recover the high priesthood. In the year AD 58 when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem the high priest was officially Jonathan, but he was assassinated in the temple by men hired by Felix the Governor of Judea. So at the time when Paul was arrested the position of high priest was officially vacant awaiting Herod Agrippa to appoint the next high priest who was Ishmael ben Fabus. It would seem then that Ananias unlawfully took the post of high priest during this time and Paul was understandably surprised because his position was not officially recognized.
Anyway returning to the story, Paul was not going to let a smack in the face stop him from speaking. When he realized that the council was made up of Sadducees and Pharisees he cried out in the council saying Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee and I am being judged because I believe in the hope and resurrection of the dead. This was enough to get the Pharisees and the Sadducees arguing and the multitude was divided because, unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees don't believe in the resurrection of the dead neither do they believe in angels and in the spirit world. The Pharisees sided with Paul saying that they found nothing evil in him, and if an angel had spoken with him, they were not going to fight against God. When the argument between them grew, the chief captain feared that Paul would be hurt in the commotion and commanded the soldiers to bring him back into the castle. During the night the Lord appeared to him and told him to have courage and that as he had testified of him in Jerusalem, he will also bear witness of him in Rome.
The next day, more than forty Jews got together and took an oath saying that they would neither drink nor eat until they had killed Paul. They went to the chief priests and elders and told them of the oath they had taken and that they should send a message to the chief captain requesting that he bring Paul back to them so that they could examine him more perfectly and they would be waiting for him to kill him before he came to them.
Paul's sister's son was in Jerusalem at the time, probably for the feast of Pentecost, and had heard of what was planned so he went to the castle and told his uncle Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and asked him to take his nephew to the chief captain, because he had something to tell him. So the boy was taken to the chief captain and he revealed to him that tomorrow the Jews will ask him for a favour, to bring Paul down to them again with the deception that they would like to ask him more things concerning Jesus, but that their real intent is to have him killed on the way by more than forty men who have taken an oath. The chief captain sent the boy away and told him not to say a word to anyone.
The chief captain realized that the situation was very serious. Paul was a Roman citizen and he had the responsibility of keeping him safe at all cost. He called two of his centurions and told them to prepare two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, seventy horsemen and another two hundred spearmen ready to depart at nine in the evening. Also to prepare two more horses so that they may set Paul on the one and a soldier on the other to protect him and to bring Paul safely to Felix the governor. The chief captain wrote a letter to Felix saying: I Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix send greetings. This man was taken by the Jews and they would have killed him, but I came with an army and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman. And when I would have known of what they accused him, I brought him forth to their council. I perceived he was accused of things concerning their law, but nothing he is accused of is worthy of death or bonds. When I was told of how the Jews laid in wait for him I sent him immediately to you and have commanded his accusers to also come to you and tell you what they have against him. Farewell.
So the soldiers took Paul and came by night until Antipatris which was about twelve hours from Jerusalem and in the morning the foot soldiers returned to the castle leaving only the horsemen to continue the journey to Caesarea which was about another eight hours journey. When they finally reached Caesarea, Paul and the letter were presented before the governor and when he had read the letter and knew that Paul was a Roman citizen, he asked him of what province he was from. This was to see whether it was in his jurisdiction to hear him as the provinces were divided into senatorial and imperial. Paul replied that he was from Cilicia which was an imperial province and so as the imperial proconsul Felix had the right to judge Paul. Felix tells Paul that he will hear him when his accusers come and commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgement hall. The castle belonged to Herod and it was the official residence of Felix when he was in Caesarea.
Chapter twenty four. After five days, the high priest Ananias and the Jewish elders came to Caesarea together with a Roman lawyer named Tertullus who informed the governor against Paul. As the trial began, Tertullus acting as the prosecutor began first to praise and complement Felix, saying that because of him they have enjoyed great peace and that by his providence very worthy deeds were done by him to this nation for which we are always grateful most noble Felix. Tertullus then begins his accusations of Paul. We have found this man a dangerous fellow because he is a troublemaker creating scandalous episodes among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. The Jewish faith was protected by the Roman Empire so any break aways from this faith that Paul created through his preaching of Christ was against the law according to Tertullus. The accused is also guilty of profaning the temple, whom we took and would have judged him according to our law, but the chief captain Lysias came upon us and with great violence took him away out of our hands, and commanded his accusers to come to you. When you yourself examine the accused you will be persuaded of the truth of all the things we accuse him of. All the Jews present agreed that these things were so.
Next it was time for Paul to defend himself and the governor beckoned to him to speak. He had been accused of three things, one: that he was a trouble maker, two: that he was causing a schism in the Jewish faith and three: that he had profaned the temple by bringing in a Greek. Paul begins telling Felix that because he has been a judge of the Jewish nation for many years he is indeed glad to answer for himself. What he is saying is that because he has been a judge of the Jews for many years, he knows what kind of people his accusers are. Paul begins his defend for the first accusation and tells Felix that there are only twelve days since he went up to Jerusalem to worship. During that time my accusers didn't find me in the temple disputing with any man neither did I raise up the people, neither in the synagogues nor anywhere else in the city. How can I be a troublemaker if I came as a pilgrim and remained invisible in all public places? My accusers cannot prove any of the things of which they accuse me of.
Paul then defends himself against the second accusation of causing a schism. I confess that I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things that are written in the law and the prophets of which they call heresy. What he is saying is that the Christian faith is the fulfilment of the Jewish faith because he believes in the Messiah Christ of whom the law and the prophets speak of. He continues: I have hope in God, in which they also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. According to these principles do I live before God and man.
Paul now defends himself against the third accusation. After many years I came to bring alms from the gentile Christians to the Christian Jews of Jerusalem and to offer my sacrifices at the temple. As I was in the temple purifying myself alone, for I was neither with a multitude nor did I make any noise, certain Jews from Asia accused me of blasphemy who should be here before you to testify if they had anything against me. But let the members of the Jewish council who are here today say if they found any evil doing in me when I stood before the council except that they might find me guilty for standing up and saying that I believe in the resurrection of the dead for which I am called in question by you this day.
When Felix had heard Paul's defence, he was sure of his innocence, but not wanting to offend the Jews decided to postpone any judgement until Lysias the chief captain came down with the hope that he could gather more details and would know how to judge the case more perfectly. But Lysias didn't come down and Paul remained under guard of a centurion although he had some freedom and was allowed to have as many visitors that came to visit him.
After some days Felix returned from a journey with his wife Drusilla who was a Jewess and sent for Paul to hear him concerning the faith in Christ. This was probably at the request of Drusilla who as a Jewess wanted to know what Paul believed in. At first Paul spoke of Christ theoretically, but then having in mind that Felix was a tyrant and that his marriage with Drusilla was unlawful for the Jews, got down to the heavy stuff and spoke about righteousness, temperance and the future judgement to come. Hearing these things Felix trembled and needing to compose himself sent Paul away saying he will call him again when he had a convenient moment. He did in fact call Paul to speak to him many times, but his motives were not to find out more about Christ, but hoped that Paul or his acquaintances would offer him a bribe to let him go free. Paul remained under guard for two years. In AD 60, Felix was replaced as governor by Porcius Festus and could have released Paul before his departure from Caesarea, but wanting to be on good terms with the Jews, he left him bound.
Chapter twenty five. Three days after Festus came into the province, he went from Caesarea to Jerusalem for certain businesses and to meet the upper classes of Jerusalem. Taking the opportunity, the high priest who was now Ishmael ben Fabus and the chief of the Jews, informed him of Paul and pleading with him desired that he do them a favour and have Paul brought down to Jerusalem on the pretence that they would speak with him, but in reality would have men laying in wait to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul should be kept at Caesarea and in any case there was no time to send soldiers to fetch him because he himself would depart shortly, but if any among you believe that this man has committed evil let them go down with me to accuse him.
After ten days Festus returned to Caesarea and the next day commanded Paul to be brought to him at the Judgement seat. The Jews that came down with Festus from Jerusalem stood round about and accused him of many things of which they could not prove. Paul defended himself saying: that neither against the law of the Jews neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended anything at all. But Festus, wanting to favour the Jews asked Paul if he was willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged of the things he was accused of before him. By now Paul had probably had enough of this back and forth game. He could see that Festus believed him, but could also see that he was not willing to let him go free and offend the Jews whom he wanted to have with his side. Paul also wanted to go to Rome and preach Christ to the Romans so he answered and said: I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as you very well know. If I am an offender and have committed anything worthy of death, I am ready to die here, but if I an innocent of all the things they accuse me of, no one can deliver me to them; I appeal unto Caesar. According to Roman law, when any Roman citizen was on trial and appealed to Caesar, the court could no longer function to find him innocent or guilty, and the person on trial had to be transported to Rome for his case to be heard there. This suited Festus as it gave him a way out by releasing him from offending the Jews so as Paul appealed unto Caesar, he told him that unto Caesar he will go.
After certain days king Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I who murdered the apostle James the son of Zebedee, came with his sister Bernice to salute Festus and to congratulate him on his new position as governor of Judea. When they had been there many days Festus informed the king of Paul, how he had been left in bonds by Felix and that the Jews at Jerusalem desired to have him judged and executed. Festus informed the king of the whole history and how the Jews accused him of something concerning their own superstitions and of one Jesus who is dead, but Paul affirms is alive. And how when he asked him if he would go to Jerusalem to answer the charges against him he appealed unto Caesar and now remains in bonds until the opportunity arises for him to be sent to Rome. The king said that he would also like to hear what Paul has to say, so the next day Agrippa, Bernice, the chief captains and all the principal men of the city came together and Paul was brought before them. Festus, speaking to all present said: see this man whom all the Jews, both at Jerusalem and here insist that he should no longer live. But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and he has appealed unto Caesar and I am determined to send him. My problem is that I have no certain thing to write unto the Emperor, therefore I have brought him before you and especially before you king Agrippa, that after examination I might have something to write, because it is unreasonable to send a prisoner and not signify the crimes laid against him.
Chapter twenty six. Agrippa gives Paul permission to speak and Paul begins telling the king his history of how he was a Pharisee and persecuted the Christians and had authority from the high priests to arrest them and bring them for trial. He recounts the events on the road to Damascus and the vision that he saw and how the Lord sent him to preach to the gentiles. As a result he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but first preached unto them of Damascus and at Jerusalem, and throughout the coasts of Judea and then to the gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance. For this reason, he said, the Jews took hold of me and went about to kill me. But having obtained help from God I continue to this day witnessing to everyone small and great, saying nothing other than the things the prophets and Moses said would come, that Christ should suffer and that he would be the first to rise from the dead and would show light unto the people and unto the gentiles.

On hearing this Festus interrupted Paul to tell him that too much learning has made you mad. It would seem that during his two year imprisonment Paul had the opportunity to read certain books provided by his disciples. Paul replied that he is not mad but speaks the word of truth and the king knows of these things, because as a Jew it is not possible that the things concerning Jesus have not come to his knowledge because nothing was done in secret, but openly in the capital of Jerusalem. Paul then asks the king if he believes in the prophets because he was sure that he did believe. The king replied: you have almost persuaded me to be a Christian. The king's reply was almost in jest, because as a Jew he could not deny the prophets, but if he replied that he believes them then he would have to admit that they speak of Christ's passion and resurrection and would actually have to convert to the Christian faith. Also he didn't what to offend Festus by saying that Paul was not mad so he avoided answering by saying you have almost persuaded me to be a Christian. Paul replied that he would hope in the Lord that not only him, but all them that heard him that day were Christians like himself except for the bonds.
When Paul had finished speaking. the king, Festus, Bernice and others that were with them went aside to discuss the case between themselves and all agreed that Paul had done nothing worthy of death or of bonds. King Agrippa said to Festus that if he had not appealed to Caesar he could have been set free.