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The Scriptorium

The Law in Their Face

Paul exposes the folly of his trial. Acts 22.30-23.10

The Trials of Paul (3)

Pray Psalm 7.17.
I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness,
And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

Sing Psalm 7.17.
(Finlandia: Be Still My Soul)
All praise and thanks to You, O righteous Savior!
My hope, my trust, my confidence are You!
Embrace me with Your kindness and Your favor,
and to Your glory make me ever true.
We sing Your praise and glorify Your Name,
Who brings our foes to judgment and to shame.

Read Acts 22.1-23.10; meditate on 22.30-23.10.


Paul found himself in the strange situation of being under two sorts of law at once – Roman and Jewish (v. 30). But he could cope with the situation, even if his accusers would not. He may have been guilty of speaking before being spoken to here (23.1), and that may explain the high priest’s action of having him slapped (v. 2). But that was out of bounds; he could have just motioned for him to wait.

Paul exploded. He could bear the inconsistency and hypocrisy of this situation no longer. The priest intended to judge him by the law of the Jews, yet contrary to that law he had Paul struck (v. 3)? No way.

But then Paul himself was reminded that his outburst put him in danger of reviling a ruler of the people, so he backed down, citing the Law of God (vv. 4, 5; cf. Ex. 22.28) to show that, contrary to what has been reported of him, he is a man who abides by the Law of God.

Paul went on the initiative. In declaring himself a Pharisee, he shifted the accusations against him – even though they were false – into a positive mode, saying that he was on trial for the beliefs of that party (v. 6). Everything Paul said was true.

The court erupted into shouting, as the Pharisees saw no reason to continue the trial but the Sadducees were not about to let Paul go (vv. 6-9). When it seemed things might turn violent, the Romans intervened (v. 10).

Paul had simply stated the truth about his situation, but he was careful to frame his defense to find common ground with at least some of the court. But, as we shall see, this whole situation was not about learning the truth. It was about being rid of Paul.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees…” (Acts 23.6), his memory may have suggested something he had read from wise Solomon:
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Prov. 26.4, 5)

To take the focus off himself, Paul very wisely tossed a divisive thought into the mix. “Why don’t you folks discuss the validity of the resurrection and whether or not spirits and angels exist?” (Acts 23.6-8) And there you go! The religious started to argue with one another, and to save face, one group even ended up defending Paul.

Oh, that we today had that kind of wisdom when dealing with those who rail against the Jesus in us!  Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10.16).

On many occasions Jesus employed this same wisdom when dealing with those who were troubling Him: They asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” But Jesus answered them with a loaded question: “The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And because of all the hubbub that an incorrect answer to that question would have caused they answered with a resounding: “We do not know” (Matt. 21.23-27). And for the moment, that ended it.

On another occasion the Sadducees came to Him with a ridiculous question about the resurrection that they didn’t even believe in themselves. His answer: “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22.23-33). And that silenced them, for the moment.

A beautiful and quiet wisdom flows from the mind of God. And when we see it in action in the lives of Jesus and Paul, we long to have that wisdom for ourselves, so that our work in our Personal Mission Field is full of God’s wisdom, too.

And the amazing thing is this: God promises to give His wisdom to us if we ask Him for it! “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jms. 1.5).

And this wisdom is to be used for His glory. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (Jms. 3.17).

And if it keeps us from being foolish and helps a foolish person not to be wise in his own eyes—so be it.

For reflection

1. How can you have more of the wisdom of God? What would that look like in your life?

2. Why should we expect certain people to oppose the Good News of Jesus? When they do, does that mean we have failed in our witness? Explain (recall Acts 17.32-34).

3. Why is it wisdom to avoid arguing with people about the things of the Lord?

Though the answer of Paul contained a just rebuke and prediction, he seems to have been too angry at the treatment he received in uttering them. Great men may be told of their faults, and public complaints may be made in a proper manner; but the law of God requires respect for those in authority. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on Acts 23.1-5

Pray Psalm 7.1-8.
Seek the Lord’s protection against the enemy of your soul. Confess and repent of any sins. Call on the Lord to lead you in the ways of righteousness throughout this day.

Sing Psalm 7.1-8.
(Finlandia: Be Still My Soul)
O Lord, my God, in You do I take refuge;
save me from those who my poor soul would tear!
Deliver me from my foes’ angry deluge,
lest I be swept beyond all hope and care.
Let not injustice, let not evil stain me,
lest to the dust my glory trampled be.

Arise, O Lord, rise up in wrath to save me!
Let rage and judgment fall upon my foes!
From all around to You let thanks and praise be.
Rise up on high; the wicked curse with woes.
O Judge of all, observe my just demeanor
and vindicate me by Your grace, O Lord.

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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