Acts 23:1-11 (web)

Paul's Trial
before the Sanhedrin

23:1 Paul, looking steadfastly at the council, said,
"Brothers, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day." 
23:2 The high priest, Ananias, 
commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 
23:3 Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! 
Do you sit to judge me according to the law, 
and command me to be struck contrary to the law?" 
23:4 Those who stood by said, "Do you malign God's high priest?" 
23:5 Paul said, "I didn't know, brothers, that he was high priest. 
For it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'
(Lev 5:17,18; Ex 22:28)

23:6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees,
he cried out in the council, "Men and brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.
Concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!" 
23:7 When he had said this, an argument arose between the Pharisees and Sadducees,
and the assembly was divided. 
23:8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; 
but the Pharisees confess all of these. 
23:9 A great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees part stood up, 
and contended, saying, "We find no evil in this man. 
But if a spirit or angel has spoken to him, let's not fight against God!" 

23:10 When a great argument arose, the commanding officer,
fearing that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, 
commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, 
and bring him into the barracks. 
23:11 The following night, the Lord stood by him, and said,
"Cheer up, Paul, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, 
so you must testify also at Rome." 


vs 1-5 We notice a similar event occuring during Jesus' trial
John 18:22,23
When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. 
"Is this the way you answer the high priest?" he demanded.
"If I said something wrong," Jesus replied,
"testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?"
I don't think that the high priest was offended from the idea of it being possible to have a clear conscience. For I suspect that the high priest himself would reckon his own conscience to be clear, though being corrupted by sin. Rather what he was upset at was the idea that Paul could have a clear conscience. For he reckoned him guilty before he was even tried.  And it was illegal under Jewish law to inflict punishment upon one who had been first tried. Thus though supposedly being zealous for the Law, the high priest himself broke the law publically and without regret, apology, nor repentance. Paul's reference to whitedwall is the same as Jesus spoke of the hypocrisy among the religous elite. 
Mt 23:25  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
Mt 23:27  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.
There has been some debate as to what Paul meant that he didn't recognize this man as the high priest. The simplest reading is that he literally didn't know the man was the high priest. Or he could have know him, but in effect be saying, "Well, you could have fooled me. I certainly wouldn't have known it from his behavior." Paul then shows his superior understanding of the Law of which the high priest violated, giving reference to not speaking evil of the ruler. This was a rebuke to these officials who spoke evil of the Lord Jesus who was the true King of Israel and of the apostle Paul who was the Lord's ambassador. 

Another point to be made is the application of living by a good conscience. The Christian is not just guided by the Word of God. Most commands in the New Testament are more likened to principles rather than specific regulations. For particular applications, the Spirit guides one's conscience in accordance with such general principles. Paul of course had the additional prophet guidance of God speaking to him directly. But many places he advises to allow your conscience to be your guide. If something makes you feel guilty then don't do that. This closes many doors in life and allows a clearer path in right living. And so also as a requirement for a deacon, "They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience."1Tim 3:9 And in fact this is a goal of being instructed in the Christian faith. "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." 1Tim 1:5

vs 6-9 Though united against Christians, the Jewish leadership was nonetheless divided internally. Pharisees gave equal weight to the Law and the Prophets, and extended the application of the Law by inference. Such extensions are reflected in the Mishnah and the Talmud. As such they are reckoned more religous in practice. They also believed in angels and in the resurrection from then, as for example mention in Daniel and Job:

"As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance."Daniel 12:13
"I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;  I myself will see him with my own eyes-- I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" Job 19:2-27
The Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection (That's why they were so SAD, YOU SEE?) not in angels. The Sadducees were also aristocrats in comparison with the Pharisees and more involved in politics while Pharisees were more involved in religion. And they held only to the written Law of Moses as opposed to oral traditions and they interpreted it more literally and less allegorically than the Pharisees, and they gave greater weight to the Law of Moses than to the prophets.

Thus Paul was able to change the debate from being one of Christian vs. Jew to one of Pharisee vs Sadducee.

vs 10-11 But to the Romans Paul was a Roman citizen who had rights and protection under Roman law. Thus he was delivered from the mob once again. Here also the Lord affirms being with him in all this in accordance with His plan to bring him to Rome. Thus Paul prepared to exercise his right to appeal to the Emperor.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jan 28,2022