Acts 22:3-23 – Paul’s Defense
Diving Deeper lesson outline for Acts 22:3-23.
Lesson taught over 3 weeks.
Lesson title is drawn from Paul’s stated intent behind the speech made to the Asian Jews.
1) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW – VS 3-5
Acts 22:3-5 – I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
Paul associates the following with his Judaism:
Spoke Aramaic – Vs. 2
Raised in Jerusalem
Educated by Gamaliel according to the law
Zealous for God
Persecutor of the Way
POI – The wisdom of Gamaliel
Acts 5:33-39 – When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
He cites witnesses:
Whole council of elders
Brothers in Damascus
And a chain of evidence:
From them I received letters to punish the Way
In fact, elsewhere Paul outlines even more evidence for his Judaism:
Descendant of Abraham
Member of the tribe of Benjamin
Blameless under the law
Romans 11:1b – For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.
Philippians 3:4-6 – If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
And it is certainly possible that he built his case even more thoroughly than Luke reveals:
So zealous for traditions I was a prodigy
Witnessed & approved of Stephen’s execution
Ravaged the church
Galatians 1:14 – And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.
Acts 8:1-3 – And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
None of this was in any way offensive to the Jewish Mob – the Asian Jews.
In fact, much of this may have been new and impressive info for them.
The Saul that Paul was speaking of would have been at the front of the line in their persecution of Paul
This would help explain why just prior to this they were trying to kill him and now they were continuing to listen to him.
It is not unreasonable to expect, that with some of them, Paul had achieved his desired affect.
Which is to say, they began to question “This guy was awesome, but what happened to him?”
The answer was about to come.
2) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW WHO ENCOUNTERED JESUS OF NAZARETH – VS 6-11
Acts 22:6-11 – “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
In fact, on the way to persecute in Damascus:
Had a physical encounter with objective consequences
Blinded by light from heaven
Fell to the ground
Jesus talked to me:
Jesus of Nazareth was an allusion to the historical man who was crucified and buried and whose body was no longer in its tomb (the Asian Jews would have known this – Acts 19:17 – Jesus name extolled).
Jesus told me that persecuting the church was a persecution of him.
Cites witnesses to the physical encounter and consequences:
Those who were with me saw the light
Those who were with me saw I was blinded by it and had to lead me to Damascus
“Those who” were also the witnesses to Saul’s zealous Judaism, his persecution of the way and of the letter.
Cites a reason for the event:
Jesus has something for me to do and it is not to persecute the church.
In these verses, Paul was describing an event that changed his life.
The change it produced he would reveal soon enough.
What is in view here as Paul is making his defense, however, is that the event and its objective affects had witnesses.
Presumably, Paul’s story could be investigated and verified, otherwise, to use it as evidence for his the truth of his claims would have been merit less.
“The conversion and apostleship of St. Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a divine revelation,” – George Lyttelton; Observations on the conversion of St. Paul
POI – Interesting to notice what Paul did not say in his defense.
When speaking the Gospel, we are often taught to give a testimony that describes our life before and then after our salvation & we typically talk about subjective, emotional aspects of our salvation – “peace”, “satisfaction”, “happiness”, etc.
Paul made mention of none of these things in his defense.
He spoke more about objective reasons behind his conversion; things much more useful to the audience if they wished to investigate Paul’s defense.
I think we should endeavor to adopt Paul’s strategy.
3) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW FORGIVEN BY THE MESSIAH – VS 12-16
Acts 22:12-16 – “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
Paul cites another witness:
Devout man according to the law
Respected by the Damascus Jews
(Acts 9:14 – Jews who knew Paul was coming to persecute the Christians & would have known Ananias was a Christian).
A witness to my blindness
Healed my blindness
Why cite a Christian as a source when speaking to the Asian Jews?
Wouldn’t this hurt Paul’s argument?
The answer to the above question is found in an understanding of the role of witnesses in Jewish law.
This, admittedly, is a very basic understanding.
First, it is necessary that there be testimony from at least two witnesses to establish the possibility of an event (crime).
Deuteronomy 19:15 – “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
Second, the quality and relationship of the witnesses must be established and examined.
The Jewish Law Annual states with respect to witnesses that, “what is being sought is a common denominator that serves to render the witnesses a single unit, that is, some factor that links together persons who would otherwise be simply a number of discrete individuals. It is clear that the connection between them is formal and accidental, without involving any personal element, and there is no logical or substantive reason to suppose that this connection has any influence on the case.”
When we apply this by comparing Ananias, the “those who were with me” from Acts 22:9 & 11 and the high priest and elders from Acts 22:5, we see a picture of witnesses whose connection is “formal and accidental”, without any “personal element” and that their connection is not some sort of collusion.
We see this because Annanias, a well-respected Jewish follower of Christ from Damascus, is quite different both in his beliefs and in his geography from the other witnesses.
Yet they all can testify to the following “common denominator”:
Paul was zealous for the law.
Paul persecuted Christians.
Paul encountered Jesus.
Jesus spoke to Paul.
Paul was blind.
Their relationship to the events Paul was recounting was the only thing that made the witnesses “a single unit”.
So the fact that they could, if interrogated, paint a picture that would have had all the aforementioned similarities gave their testimony incredible weight!
God orchestrated a series of events that provided actual historical reasons to believe in Paul’s message.
No one had to just take his word for it…and neither do we.
The Bible can withstand all the scrutiny we wish to throw at it.
This devout, respected, law abiding, healing Jew (Ananias) revealed:
God of our fathers (God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob)
Appointed (CHOOSE) Paul to know God’s will
To see Righteous One
To hear His voice
POI – That Paul was appointed or chosen by God reveals God’s role in calling us to Him.
As a side note, God also chose the disciples.
Luke 6:13 – And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles
The audience would have rightly understood the term “Righteous One” as referring to the Messiah.
Isaiah 24:16 – From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One.
Acts 3:14 – But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,
Acts 7:52 – Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
Ananias, as a witness, was corroborating Paul’s story and declaring that God chose Paul to see and hear the Messiah!
This was a remarkable claim Paul was making before the Jewish mob and it would not have been lost on them.
The purpose of the call on Paul:
Witness for Jesus what was seen and heard – THE BOOK OF ACTS.
The effects of the call:
Sins forgiven in name of Jesus
The idea of being immersed in water and its symbolic relationship to purification was not new to the Jews.
When you go to Jerusalem today, you see the remains at the temple mount of the Mikveh baths.
The Jewish Mikveh Laws were founded in the ceremonial washings taught in the Pentateuch.
Leviticus 8:6 – Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water.
Leviticus 16:4 – He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on.
And interestingly, Ezekiel & Zechariah prophesied about a cleansing to come in the days of the Messiah symbolized with water.
Ezekiel 36:24-28 – “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you…You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people; and I will be your God”
Zechariah 12:10; 13:1 – “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son…On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity”
It is amazing to me that even with all these claims, the mob remained attentive.
Paul had declared that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah and that Jesus had forgiven Paul’s sins.
It was presumable that many of the Jewish mob had also picked up on the relationship drawn between Jesus the Messiah and a symbolic water purification.
Perhaps the mob was still enamored with Paul’s Super Jew credentials.
But it was also possible that this points to the persuasiveness of Paul’s argument to at the very least, garner a respectful hearing.
But all that was about to change.
4) IDENTITY – I AM A JEW REJECTED BY JEWS & GIVEN TO GENTILES – VS 17-21
Acts 22:17-23 – “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” 22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air… [enter the Roman tribune].
Paul’s time in the temple paints a beautiful picture of restoration:
Paul left Jerusalem a “slave to sin” and came back a “slave to righteousness”.
He left Jerusalem persecuting followers of Jesus and now was praying in the temple as a follower of Jesus.
He left Jerusalem irrevocably alienated from God and returned having been called and fully restored.
So we have the completion of Paul’s defense.
He made a brilliant, event and witness based case for Christ.
And he ended with this beautiful picture of a Jew restored and completed in fellowship and prayer with Jesus Christ in the temple.
A temple which had its purpose completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ!
POI – It can’t be overstated how remarkable this return to Jerusalem must have been for Paul.
One would speculate that when Paul entered the temple everything from the sights, smells, and symbolism must have struck him with a clarity that, in spite of all his Super-Jew qualities, he had never known before.
One would speculate further that his prior life must have now seemed hollow and counterfeit compared to what he now knew through Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:4 – For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
What a huge burden lifted!
What undo burdens have we placed on ourselves???
Paul is puzzled:
Paul seemed to be of the opinion that if he responded to God’s call then surely his former piers would respond as well.
Therefore, when Christ warns him to leave Jerusalem, he is puzzled by it.
He even gives his reasoning to Jesus – “I imprisoned”, “I beat”, on Stephen’s death “I myself was standing by and approving”.
In other words, if one who was “blameless under the law”, “a pharisee”, “zealous beyond his years”, “persecutor of the Way” could be restored, then surely others would do so as well.
Yet, Jesus knew differently.
Thus, Paul began a life of submission to the will of God no matter the cost.
The J-Bomb drops the G-bomb:
Jesus’ will for Paul – ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’
In fact, it was God’s will for Paul before Paul was even born.
Galatians 1:15-16 – But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles,
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul described this call to preach to the Gentiles this way:
This calling made possible by grace and power of Jesus
A mystery made know to me by revelation from Jesus
A mystery withheld from previous generations
That mystery being that Gentiles are fellow heirs
Ephesians 3:1-9 – For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,
Jews are outraged:
Up to this word they listened to him…
What ensued next reminds me of the 2001 Space Odyssey movie when the chimpanzees went nuts.
Paul claiming that God was going to do business with Gentiles sent them over the edge.
The question is why?
First, we need to see what informed their cultural bias (very similar to our cultural baggage lesson a few weeks ago).
The OT is full of references to “the nations” in a negative light.
And when taken out of context and coupled with a history of oppression by “the nations” it is easy to understand the Jews hatred of the Gentiles.
“I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples” – Leviticus 20:24
“abominations of the nations” – 2 Chronicles 33:2
“despicable practices of the nations” – 2 Kings 21:12
“the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean” – Leviticus 18:24
“you shall perish among the nations…your enemies” – Leviticus 26:38
“he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them” – Psalm 106:41
But in spite of these characterizations, the OT is also clear in God’s intent for “the nations”.
The Gentile call in the OT:
Both Luke in Acts 2:21, and Paul in Romans 10:13 interpreted the prophet Joel’s words as referring to a call of Gentiles.
In fact, they quoted the prophet word for word.
Joel 2:32a – And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Moses speaks of a blessing for the nations all the way back to Genesis.
Genesis 26:4 – I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,
The restoration of Israel was prophesied to include Gentiles.
Amos 9:11-12 – “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, 12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the Lord who does this.
Not to mention Ruth coming to God in faith & Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh.
Since the OT taught that God called the Gentiles the NT Jews had no Biblical reason for their objection.
So we are left with and understandable but worldy/culturally informed bias toward Gentiles.
I think it may have played out like this:
Strike 1 – It is not just Paul’s call to preach to the Gentiles.
Strike 2 – It is not just that Paul’s call to preach to the Gentiles came from Jesus of Nazareth.
Strike 3 – But, it is that this call to preach to the Gentiles took place inside the temple!
The temple was the ultimate expression of God’s covenant and relationship with the Hebrew nation.
To say that God confirmed this call to the Gentiles in the temple, was for the Jew a defilement of temple purity.
But for Paul it was a highway sign that read “the Gentiles are grafted in” as he taught in Romans 11.
There is another monumental implication for the Jew with regards to God’s call to the Gentiles.
Namely, what it means to be Jewish.
Romans 2:28-29 – For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Romans 9:4-8 – They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
It is as if Paul is saying that to be Christian is to be Jewish and to be Jewish is to be Christian.
We can draw some modern day parallels to Christianity today:
Today there are “Christians” who reject Paul’s Christianity just as many Jews rejected his Judaism.
Recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America voted to allow homosexual pastors.
And it declared that Scripture offers no clear teaching on homosexuality.
It therefore reasoned that one’s stance on homosexuality is best left up to one’s conscience.
In opposition, Lutheran theologian Robert Benne explained that, “The liberating movements fueled by militant feminism, multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-heterosexism, anti-imperialism, and now ecologism have been moved to the center while the classic gospel and its missional imperatives have been pushed to the periphery.”
So, as a worldly, cultural bias and incomplete understanding of the implications of Scripture clouded the Jews view of God’s will to include Gentiles, so to have the same things contributed to the ELCA’s Scriptural relativism.
Albert Mohler, in refuting the ELCA’s reasoning (which they borrowed from Martin Luther), explained that Luther did teach that we are to be “bound by our conscience”, but he taught that the conscience was in turn bound to Scripture and not bound to the world (feelings, emotions, etc.).
Paul’s defense and the Jews rejection confirmed what Jesus revealed to him in them temple years earlier.
Yet, Paul continued to recognize in his Epistles that God’s covenant and call to the nation of Israel will find fulfillment.