A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 21:37-22:22. 3). Paul defends himself to the crowd.
Claudius Lysias, as an honest open-minded Roman soldier, compares favorably with the prejudiced Jewish crowd. They had assumed, without taking the trouble to check it, that Paul had brought Trophimus into the inner court of the temple; Claudius Lysias had assumed that Paul was an Egyptian terrorist, but immediately changed his mind when he learned the facts. The revolutionary to whom Lysias was referring was described by Josephus as `an Egyptian false prophet’ who, about three years previously, had got together 30,000 men (Josephus was prone to exaggeration!), led them to the Mount of Olives, and promised them that, when the walls of Jerusalem fell flat at his command, they would be able to break into the city and overpower the Romans. But the procurator Felix and his troops intervened, and the *sikarioi* (`dagger men’, i.e. fanatical nationalist assassins) were killed, captured and scattered. But the Egyptian disappeared, and the commander at first thought that he had now come to light again. But Paul enlightened him about his identity. He spoke proudly of his citizenship of Tarsus, which was `the first city of Cilicia, not merely in material wealth but in intellectual distinction, as one of the great university cities of the Roman world’. He then asked leave to address the crowd, which was granted.
As Paul boldly made his speech or defense (*apologia*, 22:1) to the hostile crowd from the stone steps which led up from the temple to the fortress of Antonia, he did so with great sensitivity and appropriateness. His sensitivity is seen both in his polite address to his audience as *Brothers and fathers* and in his choice of the Aramaic language, which in itself was enough to quieten them. But was what he said appropriate to the occasion? This is, of course, the second time that Luke has given his readers an account of Paul’s conversion. Previously he gave it in his own words, but this time (and the third time before King Agrippa) he gives it in Paul’s words. In each case the outline is the same, but the particular emphasis of each testimony is well fitted to its context. To the crowd in Jerusalem, whose angry complaint was that he taught everybody everywhere against the people, the law and the temple (21:28), Paul stressed his personal loyalty to his Jewish origins and faith.
First, he spoke of his Jewish birth and upbringing, and of his training *in the law of our fathers* under Gamaliel (cf. 5:34), the most eminent teacher of that time and the leader of the school of Hillel, whose disciple he had been. So his Jewishness was incontrovertible. He was `a Hebrew of the Hebrews’ (Phil. 3:5, AV.). Secondly, he drew attention to his zeal for God, which was as great as theirs, since he had persecuted the followers of the Way, both men and women, even to prison and to death. The Sanhedrin could testify to this, since it was they who had issued him with the extradition order which he took with him to Damascus.
Thirdly, Paul narrated the circumstances of his conversion, which was entirely due to a divine intervention, and not at all to any initiative of his own. A light from heaven had blinded him, and the person who spoke to him had identified himself as Jesus of Nazareth, Fourthly, Paul referred to the ministry of Ananias, whom he deliberately characterized as *a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there* in Damascus (12). It was he who restored Paul’s sight, who told him that *the God of our fathers* had chosen him to know his will, see the Righteous One, `hear his very voice’ (14, NEB) and be his witness, and who baptized him. Then fifthly, Paul came to his vision, which took place in the very temple he was supposed later to have defiled, and in which *the Lord* (Jesus is not mentioned by name) told him to leave Jerusalem immediately, in spite of his reluctance and objections. `Go’, the Lord had said. `*I will send you far away to the Gentiles.*’ That is, *exapostelo se*, almost `I will make you an apostle’, indeed the apostle to the Gentiles (21:26:17; cf. Gal. 1:16; 2:7-8).
It was at this point that Paul was interrupted by the crowd who found their voices again and loudly demanded his death (22). It is important to understand why. In their eyes proselytism (making Gentiles into Jews) was fine; but evangelism (making Gentiles into Christians without first making them Jews) was an abomination. It was tantamount to saying that Jews and Gentiles were equal, for they both needed to come to God through Christ, and that on identical terms.
Looking back over Paul’s defense, we may perhaps say that he made two major points. The first was that he himself was a loyal Jew, not only by birth and education but still. True, he was now a witness where before he had been a persecutor. But the God of his fathers was his God still. He had not broken away from his ancestral faith, still less apostatized; he stood in direct continuity with it. Jesus of Nazareth was `the Righteous One’ in whom prophecy had been fulfilled. And Paul’s second point was that those features of his faith which had changed, especially his acknowledgment of Jesus and his Gentile mission, were not his own eccentric ideas. They had been directly revealed to him from heaven, the one truth in Damascus and the other in Jerusalem. Indeed, nothing but such a heavenly intervention could have so completely transformed him.
Tomorrow: Acts 22:23-29. 4) Paul is protected by Roman Law.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts: Becoming a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.