Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859 edition.

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ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - Chapter 23

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Acts xxiii.

Notes & Commentary:

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

Ver. 3. God shall strike thee, thou whited wall.[1] These words are rather by way of a prophecy. (Witham) --- 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 St. 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. (Haydock) --- 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. (St. Augustine, lib. i. cap. 19. de Verb. Dni.) --- For St. 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. [Ven. Bede on this place.])

Ver. 5. I knew not, &c. Some think St. 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 St. Chrysostom rather judges that St. 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. (Witham) --- It seems rather surprising that St. 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. (Haydock) --- St. Cyprian supposes that St. 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.) St. 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. (Witham) --- 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. St. Gregory, in his Morality, (lib. xxxiv. cap. 3. and 4.) and St. Thomas Aquinas 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) --- St. 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 St. Paul's declaring himself for the resurrection, which made the Pharisees favour him, and incensed the Sadducees. (Witham)

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

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. (St. Chrysostom, 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. (Matthew 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. (Witham)

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 Matthew xiv. 35. (Witham)

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. (Witham)

Ver. 35. This was a palace erected by Herod the Great; in which the governors had taken up their habitation. (Bible de Vence)

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

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

[3] Ver. 13. Devoverunt se, anathematisan.[ver. 14, bind under a great curse.]


Bible Text & Cross-references:

Paul stands before the council: the Jews conspire his death. He is sent away to Cæsarea.

1 And *Paul looking upon the council, said: Men, brethren, I have conversed with an entire good conscience before God until this present day.

2 And the high priest, Ananias, commanded them who stood by him, to strike him on the mouth.

3 Then Paul said to him: God shall strike thee, thou whited wall. And thou sitting dost thou judge me according to the law, and, contrary to the law, command me to be struck?

4 And they that stood by, said: Dost thou revile the high priest of God?

5 And Paul said: I knew not, brethren, that he is the high priest. For it is written: *Thou shalt not speak evil of the prince of thy people.

6 And Paul knowing that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, cried out in the council: Men, brethren, *I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees: concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

7 And when he had said this, 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 Now a great clamour was raised. And some of the Pharisees rising up, contended, saying: We find no evil in this man: what if a spirit hath spoken to him, or an Angel?

10 And when there arose a great dissension, the tribune, fearing lest Paul should be torn in pieces by 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 standing by him, said: Be constant: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.

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

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

14 They came to the chief priests, and the ancients, and said: We have bound ourselves under a great curse that we will eat nothing, till we kill Paul.

15 Now, therefore, do you with the council signify to the tribune, that he bring him forth to you, as if you meant to know something more certain concerning him. And we, before he come near, are ready to kill him.

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

17 Then Paul calling to him one of the centurions, said: Bring this young man to the tribune, for he hath something to tell him.

18 So he took him, and brought him to the tribune, and said: Paul, the prisoner, desired me to bring this young man to thee, who hath something to say to thee.

19 And the tribune taking him by the hand, went aside with him privately, and asked him: What is it that thou hast to tell me?

20 And he said: The Jews have agreed to desire thee, that thou wouldst bring forth Paul to-morrow into the council, as if they meant to inquire something more certain concerning him:

21 But do not thou give credit to them: for there lie in wait for him more than forty men of them, who have bound themselves by oath neither to eat nor to drink till they kill him: and they are now ready waiting for thy promise.

22 The tribune, therefore, dismissed the young man, charging him to tell no man, that he had made known these things to him.

23 Then having called two centurions, he said to them: Make ready two hundred soldiers, to go as far as Cæsarea, and seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen, for the third hour of the night:

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

25 (For he feared lest perhaps the Jews might take him away by force, and kill him, and he should afterwards be slandered, as if he was to receive money.)

26 And he wrote a letter after this manner: Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor, Felix, greeting.

27 This man being seized by the Jews, and ready to be killed by them, I rescued coming in with the soldiers, having understand that he is a Roman:

28 And wishing to know the cause which they objected to him, I brought him forth into their council.

29 Whom I found to be accused of questions of their law: but having nothing laid to his charge worthy of death, or of chains.

30 And when it was told me that they had prepared an ambush for him, I sent him to thee, signifying also to his accusers to plead before thee. Farewell.

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

32 And the next day, leaving the horsemen, to go with him, they returned to the castle.

33 Who, when they were come to Cæsarea, and had delivered the letter to the governor, presented Paul also before him.

34 And when he had read it, and had asked of what province he was: and understood that he was of Cilicia:

35 I will hear thee, said he, when thy accusers come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment-hall.

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*

1: about the year A.D. 58.

5: Exodus xxii. 28.

6: Philippians iii. 5.

8: Matthew xxii. 23.