Acts 22 – Paul’s Defense

When Paul speaks to the crowd in Acts 22, he goes out of his way to show that he is a faithful Jew. In this speech, he tries to demonstrate his commitment to the faith of his ancestors by calling to mind a series of witnesses who can attest to his zeal within Judaism. What is Paul’s defense before the Sanhedrin?

Paul's defenseHe begins by citing his personal credentials. Notice first that Paul switches to Aramaic. The people are hostile to him and consider him a traitor.  By speaking in Aramaic, he demonstrates that he is no Hellenistic Jew who does not know the language of the Hebrew Bible.  In fact, it is possible that the Greek says he spoke in Hebrew, but that is less likely since the crowds may not have understood him at that point.

He states that he was born in Tarsus, but he was raised in Jerusalem.  Unlike the Romans, who would be impressed with citizenship from Tarsus, the Jewish audience would be impressed with Paul’s association with Jerusalem.

Paul’s education is impeccable – he was a student of Gamaliel.  We met Gamaliel in Acts 5 as the rational voice among the Sanhedrin.  He was the pupil of Hillel, one of the greatest of the Rabbis.  His decisions and opinions are constantly cited in the Mishnah.  Paul does not claim to be a Pharisee here (cf., 23:6), but by claiming to be a student of Gamaliel, he is associating himself with one of the most respected teachers in Jerusalem.

At one time, Paul was as zealous for the Law as the crowd is now.  As we have seen many times in Acts, this zeal took the form of violent action against those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul calls upon additional witnesses here since his authority to arrest followers of Jesus came from the High Priest and “council of elders.”  They can attest to his zeal for the Law.  Like Phineas or Judas Maccabees, Paul was willing to use force to compel fellow Jews to keep the Law completely if it was necessary.   Paul briefly describes his intention to go to Damascus to arrest followers of the Way, another fact that might be confirmed by the High Priest.

Ananias is described as a devout Jew, someone who keeps the Law and is respected by all the Jews living in Damascus.  Luke used the same Greek rod for devout to describe Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:25) as well as the devout men in the temple who in the Temple at Pentecost (Acts 2:5) and the devout men who buried Stephen.

The speech of Ananias is slightly different from Acts 9. The way he describes God and Jesus is very Jewish – the “God of Our Fathers” and “Righteous One” are typical phrases used for the God of the Hebrew Bible. In fact, that Jesus is the Righteous One is found in Luke-Acts only in Jewish contexts (Luke 23:47, Acts 3:14, 7:32,13:23).  Ananias does not say here that Paul is called to go to the Gentiles.  Why?  This is probably because Paul wants to emphasize his divine calling and waits to share this calling until the Lord calls him from the Temple.

Ananias tells Paul to be baptized, but this is an unusual way to express the command in Greek.  Luke uses an aorist middle (quite distinct from the aorist passive). The nuance of meaning ought to be “go baptize yourself.”) This may imply that Paul was to baptize himself in a mikveh, as we have observed several times in Acts. This unusual expression ought to be translated as middle and taken as yet another indication that Paul claims to be a “proper Jew” who is not at all guilty of desecrating the Temple.

What can we make of this claim orthodoxy from Paul?  How can the apostle to the Gentile stand before a Jewish crowd and claim to be an outstanding example of Law-Keeping?  We will continue to deal with this problem as Paul’s defense continues before the Sanhedrin.

18 thoughts on “Acts 22 – Paul’s Defense

  1. Phil, thanks for the backgroun of the Apostle Paul. Does Paul use the aorist middle in his other epistles? I am familiar with the aorist passive. Thanks,

    • Often, Romans 1:2 has προεπηγγείλατο, aorist middle participle of προεπαγγέλλω. Many koine Greek words only appear in the middle (usually called deponent verbs). The verb ἔρχομαι is always middle and appears in Paul’s letters 74 times.

  2. 4/17
    In Acts 22, we see how Paul presents his case before the Jews who were so opposed to him and his actions towards spreading the Good News. He strategically does different things to relate to his audience and to make them see that he us not some stranger who knows nothing about their Laws instead he brings a parallel with them. He speaks to the people present in Aramaic the language of their Hebrew Bible, he tells the people of his journey where he inflicted harm on people because of the Law and how God changed his life. He goes on to speak about his education under Gamaliel a well known teacher to the Jews. He speaks about God in ways that helps the people see that they think of God in a common way using terms such as: “God of our Fathers”. Paul, in his speeches is very strategic and is able to make the people see that he is on the same level as they and how God has revealed a new play that he must display to the nations. His new mission is not to persecute those who are spreading the Good News of Jesus’s resurrections instead he is to be the leading individual to spread it himself. Paul an apostle to the Gentiles can stand before the Jews so confidently because he was doing God’s will. He still though the practices of the Jews were good but not necessary for salvation and these Jews were what he once thought he related to entirely. Paul is an incredible example of an individual who was in the world but not of the world. He did all he could to spread the news of Jesus to all he could. He first went to the synagogues or the Jews and then he went to the Gentiles. The Jews were not to be neglected!

    • Good Post Elenrae, I would agree, Paul’s speeches is very strategic. It is so that each person or people group in the area can understand how God works. While his first mission before conversion was to persecute jews, this is no longer his goal. His mission is to spread the news at this point. And while he still practices Judaism, I think is fine because he practices in a new way with new mission

  3. I think the reason why he describes himself this way had a twofold purpose. The first is that I believe Paul wanted to relate to the people. It seems that from this passage, before the rioting people knew who Paul was, they might have believed he was a bad Jew. They may have thought that he had given up Jewish practices and had become sympathetic to the gentiles. If this was the opinion of the people, they would undoubtedly have looked down on Paul and viewed him as an outsider, and not properly Jewish. This speech that he gave would have rebutted this opinion of him.

    A second purpose, similar to the first one, is that, through this speech, Paul would have shown his credibility and his integrity to the people. By describing his past accomplishments and credentials, the people would likely have seen that he was a prominent Jew and that he was steadfast in Jewish practices. This would likely show the people that he was not some crazy outsider, but that he was above reproach as far as Jewish customs were concerned. This may have persuaded some to consider his message. The reason being, he was a good Jew, yet he believed these things about Jesus and the gentiles. People could have seen this and realized that he wasn’t insane, but that there might have been something to what he believed.

  4. In this chapter of Acts Paul is defending his case. He is speaking to the Jews that are opposed to him and how he is spreading the news to the Gentiles. He is working very hard to relate to the people that he is speaking to. He wants them to know that he too is following the Law. He wanted to be able to relate to who he was talking to, the Jews, so that he could explain to them who he was. If they had never heard from him or met him, they probably heard rumors about him that were negative. If they believed the rumors that they had heard about Paul, the Jews would have looked down on Paul and that he is not one of them. During his speech, Paul is describing the life he used to live. He explained how he used to hunt down followers of the Way and how God changed his life. He explains that he has a new mission from God. God is calling him to share the news of Jesus dying on the cross and resurrecting with others. Paul is so brave in following God’s plan for his life that he is not afraid to speak to the Jews that were there against him. He is faithful to follow God’s plan and does not let persecution keep him from following God. He is a great example for how we need to be faithful in following God’s plan.

  5. Paul’s defense in Acts 22 is very interesting. I believe there was specific reasoning for why he did everything he did in this chapter. I think to Paul this was the best way to get through to the Jews who did not like him/stand for what he was doing. He knew from the very start that if he did not relate to the crowd and tell them about how he was like them, and so forth, he would have never been able to get through to them. By speaking their own language, telling about the education he received growing up, and discussing how he went around punishing those who believed in Jesus, he showed how he was so much like them. This was very smart because by showing how much he was like them he also showed them how much he had been changed. By now claiming to be the head individual spreading the new Christian faith he showed the Jews how he was like them but how his life had changed and their life could change too. The fact that someone could completely start believing something else when before he believed everything they did, so much to the point he was persecuting Christians, shows that something BIG changed his heart. I think he knew this and hoped it would have a positive effect on them.
    I think it is important to note the fact that Ananias did not say Paul was sent to the Gentiles as stated in your blog. I agree, and do not think he did this in an attempt to hide the truth; rather, he wanted those to know that Paul was called to spread the gospel to everyone. Because in the end, yes he was called to the Gentiles, but he was also called to those of every race, gender, and so forth.This was an important concept to get across to the Jews because up until this time, they believed they were the chosen ones and others were not.

  6. The defense that Paul had for himself in Acts 22 was done in a very specific manner for a specific reason or reasons. If you really look into it and think about it, you see that even before this episode in chapter 22, that the way Paul did things related to his ministry was done in such a way that it was on purpose and even strategic. Basically, Paul was doing things in such a way in these cities based on who these people were; pretty much strategizing to every city he traveled to for his ministry. This was ever more so true in relation to his defense. I say this due to the simple fact that if Paul did not relate to the crowd in front of him as he was giving his defense, then in the long run, he would not have bene able to properly defend himself, and thus in turn would not have been able to properly show how much he has changed and make the people believe in him. At the same time while Paul is defending himself, I do not really blame these people he was speaking to with his defense and why they acted the way that they did. All of these people were used to the person that Paul used to be as he was formally known as Saul; someone who would constantly be persecuting Christians for whatever reason he could think of. From the outside looking into this situation, knowing everything that was in play, it would be safe to say that just from the things that he had done in the past, to him professing his love for Christ and also in turn spreading that same love to those he was being called to reach, is a clear sign that something big had happened to him that he felt would make a huge impact on those he was speaking to. You can see this thought or idea specifically right away in Acts 22 where he describes how he was and why he did what he did at the time, and then what God had said to him when he fell to the ground in Damascus in verses seven through eleven.

  7. Acts 22 is a great example of the a Jew keeping the Law while still ministering to the Gentiles. Paul went around around from place to place all over Asia minor and Greece preaching the Gospel. But here in Acts 22 Paul claims to have kept the law and be ceremonially clean before entering the Temple, and we have no reason to doubt him. After all Paul was a Pharisee at one point at it was ingrained in him to keep the law at all times. So the fact that he starts out pointing out that he was and still is a good Jew, was really Paul trying to show that Jews that he still was a keeping the law. Which means that the accusation that was brought against him was false and not true.

  8. In Acts 22, this defense made by Paul is quite interesting. Him retelling his story so that the people may hope to understand where he is coming from. With Paul making his defense, I thought you made awesome observations about how Paul worked the conversation. For example, when you said that he made a point about being raised in Jerusalem (because it would’ve been important to the Jews), and how his credentials would’ve spoke for themselves. Can we say that maybe Ananias was holding off on telling of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (that being his calling) in an attempt to calm down the crowd? If they were outraged about him allegedly bringing in a gentile to the temple, wouldn’t they be avoiding that conversation? Nevertheless, I think that Paul made some outstanding points in his speech, and with wisdom, orchestrated the speech well enough that definitely proved a point for him.

  9. In Acts 22 the Jews was keeping the Law while teaching people how to follow Christ. Paul went all over the world from place to place trying to show people that the Gospel is real and is very serious and the way to go. Acts 22 showed us that Paul was being downplayed and pointed out by people but still decided to be nice to the Jews Paul goal was to show people that no matter how he was treated he was going to have a good heart and kept giving God word to people. Some people say Paul was trying to be Pharisee because he was trying to press the Law to people at all times.

  10. In Paul’s claim, we can see that Paul is an honest man. We see that Paul is honest right from the start in Acts 22:3, Paul says, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city.” Most Jews would have loved to hear that Paul was not only raised in his youth in Jerusalem, but they would have loved to hear that he was born in Jerusalem because that is where they are from. It would make Paul more of a Jew; however, Paul did not say he was born in Jerusalem, Paul said he was born in Tarsus and grew up in Jerusalem which is very different. In Paul’s claim, we see that Paul is trying to calm the Jews by speaking to them in Hebrew. Paul’s method works, so we know that Paul is trying to win over the crowd by conforming to their culture, and by Paul doing this, we see Paul knows he needs to win them over because he is in the wrong from the perspective of the Jews. Because he is aware of where he stands, he tries to persuade and do everything he can to make the Jews like him more such as saying he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel,” Gamaliel was as Long’s blog post states, “one of the most respected teachers in Jerusalem”. By Paul mentioning his education under Gamaliel, he is setting himself up once again to be liked more by the Jews.
    As for when Paul claims he is an outstanding example of a law-keeping person, he can say this because “on Paul’s persecution of the Christians”, even though it is terrible, we see Paul asking the high chiefs for permission to hunt down Christians before he does the act (Polhill, 2008, p. 2133). We also know that at one time, Paul was a Pharisee and Pharisees must keep the strict order of the Law or else they will suffer penalties. Paul never suffered a penalty, meaning that Paul was a Pharisee who indeed kept the Law well. Paul claimed the truth and used the examples in his life to make his defense appear to be better in the eyes of the Jews. Because of that, Paul knew his audience and shifted how he defended himself.

  11. The call of Paul is to missionary or share the words of God both for Jew and Gentiles, especially to the gentiles, He was called to be witness of Jesus Christ before kings (Acts 9:15-16). He clearly knew his calling and that’s what he was fighting for. He was a Pharisee, educated well in the law of Moses under the high Priest. He also knows how to handle the Gentile to bring the message of the Lord. He said, ‘’to the Jew I become as Jew, to those under the law I became as one under the law, to outside the law, I became as one outside the law, in order to win them. I do it all for the sake of the gospel’’ (1 Cor 9:19-23).
    Wherever Paul was doing ministry, He never broke the law of Moses and never against the law. He alway keeps it. That’s why when people accused him, there was no eyewitness nor evidence. The Jews how eager to the law of Moses, hate Paul so much for a reason, for he is being the Gentiles, eating with the Gentile what the Jews should be supposed to do.
    The role of Ananias is really important in Paul’s defense. He knew that Paul is called to go to the gentiles and to witness before kings for Christ. But didn’t stand by Paul’s defense but described different who God is and Jesus is. That’s why Paul curses him but apologizes later he realizes Ananias is the Height Priest.

  12. Paul this retelling of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul omits the fact that he was given a mission to go to the Gentiles. I see this as having one of two possible explanations. It could be that Paul is trying to be subtle with his mission considering the crowd’s disposition. He’s just been accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple, and mentioning the true nature of his mission now would be suicide. The other possibility here is that Paul is trying to emphasize the hand of God in his mission. We see the same thing with the variety of language in between the Gospels. Matthew reads differently than John because its intended audience was different. By appealing to this crowd of zealous Jews by evoking their God, Paul turns their emotions back to his favor. Then again, this omission could have served both purposes at once. Whatever the case, Paul was walking a knife’s edge with these zealots. It was lucky for Paul that the Roman guards were there to arrest him. Being arrested is better than being stoned.

  13. Paul is found to be in an uncertain situation. He had had to prove his truthfulness regarding God’s plan for him to the Apostles before but now he had to prove his innocence to essentially all of Jerusalem. The way that Paul does so is interesting as he uses his Jewish background to reach the crowd, building a relationship and trust in him and what he is saying based on what they share in common, faith and nationality. Similarly it is what is even done today when sharing the Gospel. In order to successfully share the Gospel there must be some relationship or trust established so that God can truly do the work through Gospel. Even then, when Paul would speak to the Gentiles he would talk to them in a manner that helped them understand, invoking either similarity or familiarity creating that relationship or trust. In this case, Paul is using both similarities and familiarities to let the crowd know that he knew what keeping the Law meant because he was like them and therefore we would not lie to them or turn away from the Law.

  14. I think that Paul emphasizes his “Jewish-ness,” from his birth to his upbringing to his education, in order to show that he is not a traitor nor a faker. The crowd is angry because they claim he is “teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled the Holy Place” (Acts 21:28). The Jews from Asia are essentially saying that Paul is “anti-Jew.” The reality is that Paul is not “anti-Jew in the sense that he wants Jews to stop being Jewish, he wants them to stop relying on the Law for salvation” (Long notes, p. 138).

    Paul’s defense is predicated on the fact that he is “a faithful Jew,” and that “at one time, [he] was as zealous for the Law as the crowd is at this moment” (Long notes, p. 139). He was once “one of them,” someone who was willing to kill followers of the Way. He is gaining credibility with the crowd. Paul is making his “claim [of being] an outstanding example of Law-Keeping?” for the same reason that he took the Nazarite vow just previously–so that he might “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (Long blog; 1 Corinthians 9:22). He is attempting to prove to the crowd that he is not trying to tell the Jews not to be Jewish anymore, that they must stop practicing the Law in order to become followers of Jesus, but rather that he is simply sharing a new understanding of their shared faith–that he still worships the same God, but without the stringent rules that must be followed in order to attain eternal life. He appeals to the crowd to recognize that he is not unlike them, before dropping the figurative bomb that causes the crowd to turn on him once more: that God has sent him “far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21).

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