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The Scriptorium

Divide and Delay

Did Paul mean for this to happen?

Acts (20)
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24.27

The video for lesson 20 is the same as for lesson 17. You can view it by clicking here (scroll down to Lesson 17).

Read and meditate on Acts 23.6-10.
Paul quickly sized up this situation. His brain must have been going a hundred miles an hour: How to get out of this mess?

For reflection
1. Paul took the initiative. He framed the question in his favor by shifting the accusations against him – even though they were false – into a positive mode and declaring himself to be a Pharisee and on trial for the beliefs of that party. Everything Paul said was true. We might be inclined to consider his tactic as somewhat pragmatic. But remember: Paul could not have known what might happen next. Is there another way of explaining what Paul was trying to do here?

2.  Well, what were the Pharisees to do? Deny their beliefs? Condemn a man who held them (most of them doubtless had no clue why they had been assembled anyway)? They were not about to give the Sadducees even a small victory here, so they were ready to dismiss the charges and the case. Is it a good idea for believers to try to make common cause, or find common ground, with unbelievers? Explain.

3.  The Sadducees were not about to dismiss Paul’s case. They could not just deny their own views (they didn’t believe in the resurrection) and let the Pharisees grab the laurel wreath. So now everyone began shouting, but at least they were shouting at one another and not at Paul. Pretty soon things turn violent, and the Romans became worried, and not just about Paul. What does this situation teach us about how much lost people need the Gospel?

4.  So the Romans rescued Paul from the scene and delivered him back to the barracks. We can imagine the Romans were becoming not a little put out over this situation, what with all this mustering and rescuing and the like. The tribune was undoubtedly trying to find a way out of this mess, one that wouldn’t disturb the overall peace of the city. By dividing the house, Paul delayed any immediate action on his case. Pitting the various sects of Jewish leadership against one another was something Jesus was good at, too. Better they’re angry and arguing with one another than with us. Right?

5.  We might think that Paul, in making his declaration before the court, was being a bit disingenuous. It’s more accurate to say he spoke as much of the truth about himself as the situation called for. He was, indeed, a Pharisee, and he certainly believed in the resurrection and the hope of the fathers. This, he reckoned, was not the time for a Gospel message. What are some ways that you could identify with unbelievers in your life – find some common cause or common ground – without sharing the Gospel with them? What do you have in common with any unbelievers that might serve as a basis or bridge for a later conversation about Jesus?

Paul simply stated the truth about his situation, but he was careful to frame his defense to establish some common ground with at least some of the court. It’s a good idea to know as much as we can about the people to whom we intend to bear witness. Why?

Closing Prayer
My defense is of God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
God is a just judge,
And God is angry with the wicked every day.
If he does not turn back,
He will sharpen His sword;
He bends His bow and makes it ready.
He also prepares for Himself instruments of death;
He makes His arrows into fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked brings forth iniquity;
Yes, he conceives trouble and brings forth falsehood.
He made a pit and dug it out,
And has fallen into the ditch which he made.
His trouble shall return upon his own head,
And his violent dealing shall come down on his own crown.
I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness,
And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

Psalm 7.10-17

T. M. Moore

Each week’s studies in Acts are bound together into a free PDF that you can download for personal or group use (click here). Each week also features a video related to the studies of the week, which you may find helpful as you work through our studies in Acts.

Acts is the record of Christ’s ongoing work as King and Lord. This is the work of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. Read more about the implications of this work in our new book,
The Kingdom Turn (click here).

Please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452. Or, you can click here to donate online through credit card or PayPal.

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.
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