Acts 23

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Acts 23 Parallel between the treatment of Paul and Christ

"Paul endured many persecutions as he approached the time of his martyrdom; there are a number of notable parallels between his life and the Savior's. Like the Savior, Paul was smitten by the Jews with the high priest present (John 18:22; Acts 23:2). Like the Christ, Paul was arraigned before both Jewish and Roman tribunals; both the Savior and his apostle were arraigned three times before Roman rulers as the Jews sought the death sentence their own jurisdictions could not provide. The absence of credible witnesses against them during their trials showed both Christ and Paul to have been falsely accused (Mark 14:55-56; Acts 25:7). And, like Pilate, Agrippa was 'almost persuaded' (Acts 26:28) and would have freed Paul had it not been for the Jews and his consideration of Caesar (John 19:12; Acts 26:32). Although Paul was not crucified, he was stoned and left for dead outside the city. Like Christ, who was slain outside the city gate and, though placed in a tomb, did not see corruption (Psalm 16:10), Paul also arose and continued his ministry (Acts 14:19-20).

"For thirty years following Paul's conversion, the Savior repeatedly showed him the 'great things he must suffer for [Christ's] name's sake' (Acts 9:16). Paul's sufferings as a minister of Christ were varied, protracted, and intense (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), yet he endured, even unto martyrdom. His motto was ever, 'I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us' (Romans 8:18)." (Michael W. Middleton, The Apostle Paul, His Life and His Testimony: The 23d Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 127.)

Acts 23:2 Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth

"Scarcely had the apostle uttered the first sentence of his defense, when, with disgraceful illegality, Ananias ordered the officers of the court to smite him on the mouth. Stung by an insult so flagrant, an outrage so undeserved, the naturally choleric temperament of Paul flamed into that sudden sense of anger which ought to be controlled, but which can hardly be wanting in a truly noble character. No character can be perfect which does not cherish in itself a deeply seated, though perfectly generous and forbearing, indignation against intolerable wrong." (Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, pp. 539-540.)

Bruce R. McConkie

"It is a common habit of writers and commentators to compare Paul unfavorably with Jesus, even though Paul's immediate and appropriately worded apology does itself show forth a divine dignity worthy of a Greater even than he. Let us grant that none can compare with the Master, but even then, why speak ill of Paul for proclaiming, almost by instinct, the very curse that Ananias deserved, a curse which did in fact in later years come upon him when he was slain by an assassin during the Jewish war?" (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2: 191.)

Acts 23:5 it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people

James E. Talmage

"Throughout the tragic circumstances of His trial and condemnation, Christ maintained a submissive demeanor even toward the chief priests and council who were plotting His death. These officers, however unworthy of their priestly power, were nevertheless in authority and had a certain measure of jurisdiction in secular as in ecclesiastical affairs. When He stood before Caiaphas, laden with insult and accused by false witnesses, He maintained a dignified silence. To the high priest's question, 'Answereth thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee?' He deigned no reply. Then the high priest added: 'I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.' (Matt 26:63). To this solemn adjuration, spoken with official authority, the Savior gave an immediate answer, thus acknowledging the office of the high priest, however unworthy the man.

"A somewhat analogous mark of respect for the high priest's office was shown by Paul while a prisoner before the ecclesiastical tribunal. His remarks displeased the high priest, who gave immediate command to those who stood near Paul to smite him on the mouth. This angered the apostle, and he cried out: 'God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.'" (Articles of Faith, 378.)

Acts 23:6 Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees

At this point, Paul is really in trouble. He has already been prophetically warned about his visit to Jerusalem (Act 21:10-11). The Jewish masses attempted to kill him in the Temple (Acts 21:31), and his oration in his own defense had resulted in imprisonment (Acts 23). Now he has been placed before the Jewish Sanhedrin and has unwittingly criticized the most powerful Jewish authority. The Sanhedrin is likely to punish him in full measure.

Just at this inopportune time, Paul draws on his life's experience to find a way out. He brilliantly draws the attention away from himself with the subject of the Resurrection. The fervor turns from Paul to an old, worn-out debate between philosophical enemies. The Master warned, 'Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves' (Matt 10:16). Paul's serpentine wisdom had turned the hungry wolves on each other. Soon Paul finds himself defended by the Pharisees, who declare, 'We find no evil in this man' (v. 9).

Acts 23:8 the Sadducees say that there is nor resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit

Neal A. Maxwell

"The Sadducees denied the existence of angels and the preexistence; and not having the complete writings of Moses, they did not believe in a literal resurrection (see Acts 23:8). This haunting incompleteness regarding the words of Moses was confirmed by the Lord, who said: 'And now, Moses, my son, I will speak unto thee concerning this earth upon which thou standest; and thou shalt write the things which I shall speak. And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men-among as many as shall believe.' (Moses 1:40-41.)

"No wonder a restoration was needed! No wonder the full scriptural record God has given us is so vital, lest we be affected by the 'leaven' of today's erroneous philosophies. The philosophy of the Sadducees may have contributed to the tendency (after 'the Apostles fell asleep') to explain away the physical resurrection, as the spread of Greek culture in Israel hastened the subsequent Hellenization of the early Church." (Lord, Increase Our Faith, 21-22.)

Acts 23:9 let us not fight against God

"Paul neatly divided his accusers by insisting that he was a Pharisee and was accused for believing in the Resurrection (Acts 23:6). The Pharisees admitted that they should not 'fight against God' if a supernatural being had appeared (Acts 23:9). Biographies commend Paul for a good tactic, but the strategy was incidental to his constant stress on the Resurrection and revelation as the core of his message. Since the more worldly Sadducees were skeptical of continuing revelation, Paul was defended just as Gamaliel once defended Peter and John [see Acts 5:27-40]. Though probably dead now, this teacher of Paul represented an open-minded point of view that shows that the apostle labored against Jewish prejudice, not against the inner nature of the Jewish religion." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul, 231 - 232.)

Acts 23:11 Be of good cheer, Paul

Neal A. Maxwell

"When Paul was in jail after having borne his testimony before a powerful political group in Jerusalem, Jesus stood by and counseled him to 'be of good cheer.' Why? Had not Paul been struck on the mouth at Ananias's order? Were not forty Jews plotting his death? Did not his trial for sedition lie just ahead? And also Paul's shipwreck? Cheerfulness was possible because Paul had done well in his ministry in Jerusalem and now was ready for Rome, where he would also testify with great power and persuasive authority. Let the intervening, tactical tribulation come!

"This lesson about justifiable cheerfulness even amid perilous passages apparently had been driven home to Paul, for during his voyage to Rome, he assured his fearful shipmates that not one of them would lose their lives, though their ship would be lost. Therefore, He encouraged them to 'be of good cheer' in the midst of their anxieties, and his prophecy was fulfilled. (Acts 27:22)

"It remains for us, therefore, to be of good cheer even when...current circumstances seem hopeless...

"It may seem to some of us so very hard to cling to...reassuring and renewing realities when tribulations and difficulties press in upon us from all sides. But these are the realities to which we will-and should-finally cling in the moments of truth. Why not, therefore, said Jesus, profit from good cheer at the outset and throughout each day, rather than finally relying upon it anyway-but only after unneeded anxiety?" (Even As I Am, 100-101)

Bruce R. McConkie

"In his persecuted and straitened state, Paul needed comfort and assurance from on high. How shall such be given him? The Lord could have sent an angel; he could have spoken by the power of the Holy Spirit to the spirit within Paul; or he could have opened the heavens and let him see again the wonders of eternity. But this time-thanks to his valiant service, his unwearying devotion, his willingness to suffer even unto death in the Cause of Christ-this time Paul was blessed with the personal ministrations of the Lord of heaven himself. Jesus stood at his side. Without question much was said and much transpired, of which there has been preserved to us only the promise that the Lord's special apostle would yet bear witness of the Master in Rome." (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2: 192.)

Neal A. Maxwell

"Jesus individualized during what could have seemed to others to be repeated experiences. He personalized his offer of living water to the woman of Samaria (see John 4:7-26). He stood by the jailed Apostle Paul, encouraging him 'to be of good cheer' (Acts 23:11). Each of those was an audience of only one!...Even though His course is 'one eternal round' (1 Ne. 10:19; D&C 3:2), as the plan of salvation is executed and re-executed, again and again, in realms beyond our purview, His love is constant and personal." ("Wisdom and Order," Ensign, June 1994, 41)

Acts 23:11 as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome

Hugh Nibley

"These are typical episodes from Paul's missionary career, in which we find him perpetually in political hot water. Why? Because only under such strange circumstances could he accomplish his mission. What was that mission? At the time of his conversion Ananias said: 'Brother Saul, receive thy sight. . . . The God of our fathers has chosen thee. . . . For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard' (Acts 22:13-15). 'And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome' (Acts 23:11)-two completely corrupt cities. (How often does the Lord apply the word 'corrupt' to our modern world in his first words to the Prophet Joseph? [Joseph Smith-History 1:19].) 'I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. . . . But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness. . . . I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee' (Acts 26:15-17; emphasis added). Why send him to the people and the gentiles if he has to be delivered from them? 'To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God' (Acts 26:18; emphasis added).

"That was his mission: He had to go down into the gutter if he was to get anybody out of it! And you can be sure that Satan is not going to relinquish his power over anybody without a fight!" (Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, edited by Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks, 110 - 111.)

Acts 23:12-24 forty men bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul

In this evil covenant, forty men overestimated their own power. The Savior said, 'Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool...Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black' (Matt 5:34-36). These forty men had not the power to make one hair white or black, nor did they have power to add one cubit to their stature. Therefore, they were not able to make good on their oath to kill Paul. The Lord, with the help of Paul's young nephew, was able to defy this determined mob. 'And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things' (1 Ne 16:29).

Unfortunately, we don't know what became of the pitiful hunger strikers. How many days did they last before they broke their oath of abstinence? What were the expressions on their wicked faces when they heard that Paul was being protected by 470 soldiers (v. 23)? What did their family members think of their murderous plot? Although we never hear the end of their pathetic story, we imagine it as a story full of weakness, pride, futility, anger, and resentment-the common lot of Satan's servants.

The Lord designed covenant-making for certain solemn occasions in which the powers of heaven would be used to help the individual fulfill their obligation. The Lord despises covenant-making for evil purposes and the powers of heaven are used in opposition to such evil oaths. Accordingly, the Lord specifically warns us about making oaths we are not able to keep (Matt 5:33-36), underscoring the importance of covenant-keeping in the mind of the Lord.

Boyd K. Packer

"Keep your covenants. Keep your covenants.

"When you come to the temple and receive your endowment, and kneel at the altar and be sealed, you can live an ordinary life and be an ordinary soul-struggling against temptation, failing and repenting, and failing again and repenting, but always determined to keep your covenants-and that marriage ordinance will be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Then the day will come when you will receive the benediction: 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord' (Matthew 25:21).

"God grant that we will be a covenant-keeping people, that we will not take our covenants lightly." (Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, 258.)

Acts 23:27 This man...should have been killed of them

"Prior to Augustus the power of the governor in his province was virtually absolute, and in New Testament times he remained the chief military, executive, and judicial officer, with protection of citizens his special concern. Roman society was based on status, and civil rights followed this system. Slaves had the least protection, and citizens had the most. The latter were mainly either Italians or provincial families that were rewarded for usefulness to Rome. Since they generally served by political or economic influence, Roman citizens in any city were probably at least middle class, the implication of Paul telling the examining tribune that he was born a citizen. (See Acts 22:28.) On that occasion the mere claim of citizenship immediately stopped an intended interrogation under the whip. In the letter of Pliny to Trajan discussed earlier, that governor simply executed provincial Christians who did not forsake their religion, but others 'possessed of the same folly' received better treatment: 'Because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.' Paul could demand the same, which he did after facing either the danger of being murdered in another Jerusalem trial or further imprisonment after already being in custody for two years. He received fair treatment on several other occasions because of his Roman rights. Obviously the Lord called an apostle to the gentiles especially suited to survive the dangers of hot controversy." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Church and the Roman Empire," Ensign, Sept. 1975, 12)