King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Acts 23

Paul’s defence before the council of the Jews. (1-5) Paul’s defence. He receives a Divine assurance that he shall go to Rome. (6-11) The Jews conspire to kill Paul, Lysias sends him to Cesarea. (12-24) Lysias’s letter to Felix. (25-35)

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Paul’s defence before the council of the Jews

1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.

3 Then said Paul unto him, 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?

4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?

5 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.

Paul’s defence. He receives a Divine assurance that he shall go to Rome

6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.

8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.

9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.

11 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.

The Jews conspire to kill Paul, Lysias sends him to Cesarea

12 And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.

13 And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.

14 And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.

15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.

16 And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.

17 Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.

18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.

19 Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?

20 And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly.

21 But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.

22 So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me.

23 And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;

24 And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.

Lysias’s letter to Felix

25 And he wrote a letter after this manner:

26 Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.

27 This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

28 And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:

29 Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.

30 And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.

31 Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.

32 On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:

33 Who, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.

34 And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;

35 I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod’s judgment hall.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. With an entire good conscience. With an upright sincerity. But S. Paul is far from excusing himself from all sin. He laments elsewhere his blind zeal in persecuting the Christians. See 1 Cor. xv. 9. Wi.

Ver. 3. God shall strike thee, thou whited wall.[1] These words are rather by way of a prophecy. Wi. — Whited wall. That is, hypocrite, for pretending to judge me according to law; whereas, against all sense of justice, thou strikest me before my condemnation; nay, even without giving me a hearing. The Fathers admire, on this occasion, the greatness of mind and freedom S. Paul exhibited, in reproving the great. Tirinus. — This expression was not the angry words of an irritated man, nor the effect of personal resentment, but the just freedom which insulted innocence may lawfully use in its own defence. A. — It was likewise a prophecy of what was going to happen. To those who do not consider it, it may seem a curse; but to others a prophecy, as it really was. S. Aug. lib. i. cap. 19. de Verb. Dni. — For S. Chrysostom relates that the high priest, being thunderstruck by this answer, became speechless and half deaf; so that not being able to reply a single word, the bystanders did it for him. Tirinus. — It was also, as Ven. Bede says, to shew that the Jewish priesthood was to be destroyed, as now the true priesthood of Christ was come and established. Beda in hunc locum.

Ver. 5. I knew not, &c. Some think S. Paul here speaks ironically, or to signify that now he could be no longer high priest, since the Mosaic law, with its rites and ceremonies, was abolished. But S. Chrys. rather judges that S. Paul, having been long absent from Jerusalem, might not know the person of the high priest, who was not now in the sanhedrim but in the place whither the tribune had called the council, and who did not appear with that habit, and those marks which distinguished him from others. Wi. — It seems rather surprising that S. Paul did not know that he was the high priest. The place which he held in the council, one would suppose, would have been sufficient to have pointed him out. The apostle’s absence from Jerusalem is perhaps a sufficient reason to account for his not knowing this circumstance; especially, as the order of succession to the priesthood was at that time much confused and irregular, determined by favour of the Roman emperor, or by purchase. Calmet. — At all events, any difficulties we may now find in assigning a probable or true reason, are merely negative arguments; and therefore too futile to be an impeachment of the apostle’s veracity. A. — S. Cyprian supposes that S. Paul, considering the mere shadow of the name of priest, which Ananias then held, said: I knew not, brethren, that he is high priest. Ep. lxv. 69. nu. 2. S. Chrysostom says, that the apostle here shews the wisdom of the serpent; but that in his preaching, teaching, and patience, he used the simplicity of the dove.

Ver. 6. I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees.[2] It may signify only a disciple of the Pharisees, though the common Greek copies have of a Pharisee. Wi. — The address of the apostle in this is great. Knowing the different dispositions of his judges, he throws disunion into their councils, in order to draw himself from danger. Such innocent artifices are allowed in the defence of a just cause. It is one of our Saviour’s counsels, to use the prudence of the serpent. S. Gregory, in his Morality, (lib. xxxiv. cap. 3. and 4.) and S. Thomas in his Sum. Theol. (2. 2. quæst. 37. art. 2.) observe, that on similar occasions you may, without sin, cause divisions among the wicked; because their union being an evil, it is consequently a good thing that the enemies of peace and righteousness should be divided in sentiments and interests. It must, however, be acknowledged that this principle is very easily stretched beyond its proper limits, and therefore ought not to be acted upon but with the greatest caution and prudence. Calmet. — S. Paul knew from divine revelation that he was to go to Rome; but this did not hinder the apostle from taking every prudent care of his own life; as we may see from the following chapter.

Ver. 7. There arose a dissension. By the Greek, a division, or schism among them, occasioned by S. Paul’s declaring himself for the resurrection, which made the Pharisees favour him, and incensed the Sadducees. Wi.

Ver. 11. Be constant . . . so must thou bear witness also at Rome; and so needest not fear to be killed by them. Wi.

Ver. 12. Bound themselves. The Greek is, anathematized, that is, submitted themselves to a curse, if they did not kill Paul. It was a great imprecation, the violation of which would have been equivalent to renouncing their belief in God. See to what degree of iniquity this nation is come. When any good is in contemplation, none are found to undertake it; whilst all, even the priests too, are ready to concur in any wicked design. S. Chrys. in Act. hom. xlix. — To take an unlawful oath is one sin; but to keep it, is another and greater sin: as when Herod, to keep his oath, put to death John the Baptist. Matt. iv. 9.

Ver. 13. Forty men that had made this conspiracy,[3] and bound themselves with an impious curse, or imprecation upon themselves, if they did not kill him. Wi.

Ver. 19. Taking him by the hand, with marks of affection and tenderness. It is probable that the tribune expected this young man was come to offer some ransom for Paul’s liberty. Menochius.

Ver. 23. From the third hour of the night. If the tribune spoke with a regard to the twelve hours of the night, the third hour was three hours after sunset, and was about our nine o’clock at night; but if he meant the third watch of the night, that began at midnight. See Matt. xiv. 35. Wi.

Ver. 24. Felix. This man had been a slave of the emperor Claudius. The high priest, Jonathan, had procured him to be made governor of Judea. He governed the country with great cruelty and outrage; exercising the power of a king, says Tacitus, with all the insolence and meanness of a slave, who is neither restrained by fear nor shame. Tacitus, Hist. lib. v.

Ver. 25. This verse is omitted in the Greek. Antipatris was a pleasant city on the Mediterranean sea, situated at equal distance, about 24 miles, between Joppe and Cæsarea, on the way from Jerusalem to this latter city. Matt. Polus.

Ver. 27. I rescued . . . having understood that he is a Roman. This was not true, if we understand it of the first time he rescued him; but may be true, if meant of the second time. Wi.

Ver. 35. This was a palace erected by Herod the Great; in which the governors had taken up their habitation. V.

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[1] V. 3. Pecutiet, tuptein se mellei, futurum erit ut te percutiat.

[2] V. 6. Filius Pharisæorum; and so divers of the best Greek MSS. pharisaion; but the common Greek, uios pharisaiou.

[3] V. 13. Devoverunt se, anathematisan.