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

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.

5 thoughts on “Acts 28:21-24 – The Leadership’s Response to Paul

  1. It’s interesting that there were so many synagogues in Rome. I have never thought about the Jewish population in relation to the traditional needs there. It’s just interesting and clarifying, especially reading the book of Romans, with all its Jewish rhetoric.

    Would the Romans, in Rome and everywhere else, have seen Paul with as much anger and perhaps anxiety as they had seen Jesus? The preaching of the kingdom was, as we have talked about in class, the kind of thing that would get one crucified. Would the Romans have seen Paul as the same kind of revolutionary, or just another sect. I understand that there is no negative connotation there, but there could still be anxiety with the message, especially once Paul began to preach it and write letters about it. Was Paul in as much danger as Jesus was?

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  2. Would this be the first time that people did not accuse Paul in a city? I take it that the Sanhedrin were tired of going after Paul. Since the letters did not reach Paul, were they ever rewritten so he get them? To me, the second and third possibility seem the most reasonable. From the evidence that is brought before us, Rome was a rather big city. Even though it was a risk to Judaism was a high risk, it was worth if, since it was so appealing to people.

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    • I dont think the letters were for Paul.If they were written,they were probably from the Sanhedrin to the Romans,accusing Paul and warning them about him…The accusers never show up to the trial with evidence of his crimes and so charges would have to be dropped and he would have to be set free…

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  3. It’s interesting to think about the disconnection between Jewish people in Jerusalem and Rome. I’ve always thought about the Jewish people that Paul encounters in any of his travels as being connected with each other, and pursuing the same issues. Obviously, there was distance between the cities, but I’ve always thought that there was a deeper connection. Much like the Pope and his connection to the Catholic church in medieval times. Information was passed along, and although it took a little time, there was a decent connection. To think that there wasn’t necessarily this same relationship with the Jewish people is interesting. Various sects would definitely hinder this consistency between the Jews, thus allowing variations in rules and interpretations between cities. It seems most likely to me that the Roman Jews didn’t have the same frustrations with Paul that the Jerusalem Jews had because there wasn’t communication that would encourage that, and it was a different set of people with a different set of values. I see this being modeled with Christian churches across the world. The same truth is taught, but there are different cultural values and issues that will create different focuses in different areas. Paul wasn’t a big concern to the Roman Jews, thus encouraging the charges to be dropped, forgotten, or entirely overlooked.

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  4. I find it interesting to see the different perspectives between the Jews and the Romans. Sometimes I think that there was just as much persecution among the Jews, but as you said P. Long, they did have some support from some Romans–possibly even Nero’s wife!

    In verse 23, it shows one last time in Acts of Paul’s typical ability to draw in listeners. Even at the place that he thought he was going to be judged, he begins teaching them. It says in verse 24 that, “some were convinced by what he said.”

    As a side note, I also noticed, towards the top of the blog post, that if a useless case was brought before the Roman government that there would often be a fee or payment charged–I think we should do this today and implement that into our court systems. I don’t know the details of that, or if it really even is a good idea, but it is a thought…

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