Acts 28:21-24 – The Leadership’s Response to Paul

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The Jews Paul meets in Rome seem open-minded toward Paul.  More importantly, they have no instructions from Jerusalem, nor has anyone come to Rome to accuse Paul.   That there are no letters from Jerusalem is significant.  Three possibilities come to mind:   It is possible that the Sanhedrin chose to drop the case, choosing not to go to the expense of following Paul to Rome.  A second possibility is that travel conditions prevented letters from arriving before Paul. A third possibility is that contact between Jerusalem and Rome was not particularly close – perhaps Jerusalem did not exert that much influence on Roman Jews. With respect to Roman Law, this is a hint that the charges against Paul were likely dropped.  His accusers simply do not show up to offer evidence, therefore Paul would have been set free.

Roman Jews would unlikely allies against Paul primarily because the political climate of Rome encouraged them to keep a rather low profile.  They would have had to employ lawyers in order navigate the imperial courts, an expense they may not have been able to afford at the time. There were severe penalties for bringing frivolous lawsuits under Roman law (K. Lake and H. J. Cadbury, Beginnings, 4:346).

We know quite a bit about the state of the Jews in the early 60’s in Rome.  There were at least four or five synagogues in Rome in A.D. 60, based on inscriptional evidence, but there were likely more, based on a population of between forty and fifty thousand Jews living in Rome at the time (Witherington, Acts, 795, citing Philo, Legatio ad Gaium 155-157).  As is well known, in A. D. 49 Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, although this likely only effected the leaders of the riots.  Claudius died in A. D. 54, after which time Jews likely returned to Rome, although they hay have “kept a low profile.”

The Jews had some support among the Romans, even in the Imperial household.  Converting to Judaism was seen as scandalous, although many were attracted to Judaism’s one God and higher moral teaching.  Nero’s second wife and consort, Poppaea Sabina was very pro-Jewish and may have been a Jewess herself.  Nero’s relationship with her began as early as A. D. 58; he kicked her to death in 64 or 65.

If the purge of Jews in 49 effected only those who were ethnically Jewish, then it is possible that the Roman church was primarily Gentile, even if they were Gentile God-fearers.   Are these people the same who received the letter to the Romans?  Probably not, since they are fairly ignorant of Paul’s theology, which would be impossible if they had read Romans!

Paul is seen as representing a sect, or a schism within Judaism.   “People everywhere” are talking about Paul’s theology, but within the context of Judaism.  This is a indication that, at least as far as Rome is concerned, there is not yet a “parting of the ways” between Christianity and Judaism.  The Greek word translated here as sect is the same used for the “party” of the Pharisees or Sadducees.  There is no negativity in the word itself in Greek, it is simply a way of describing a sub-group within a larger group.   The sect of Paul is being opposed by people “everywhere,” a word which is rare in the New Testament, but appeared in Acts 13:45 for the Jewish response to Paul after his first major synagogue speech.

This may be because the content of the Christianity in Rome primarily concerned who Jesus was (the messiah) and the status of the kingdom of God which he claimed to have established.