In our last essay, we studied Acts 21:17-36, which told us about two things, namely, about a conference that Paul and his team had with James and the Jerusalem elders (vv. 17-26) and about Paul’s arrest at the temple (vv. 27-36). Ion this essay we are studying Acts 21:37-22:29. In verses 37-40 we see that Paul, after his arrest, whiles being taken up the steps to the barracks, asked the tribune if he could speak to him. The tribune was surprised that Paul spoke good Greek and immediately realized that his first thought about who Paul might be was wrong. The tribune had been thinking that Paul might be an Egyptian revolutionary who had led 4,000 assassins into the wilderness some three years earlier.
Josephus tells us that the Egyptian was a false prophet who led his men to the Mount of Olives where he announced that the walls of Jerusalem would fall flat, and then they could take over the city. However not only did the walls of Jerusalem not fall flat, the Romans moved in on them and the 4,000 men were killed, captured, or scattered. The Egyptian leader himself somehow had escaped, and the tribune thought that Paul might be that Egyptian returned. But as soon as the tribune heard Paul speak, he knew that was not the case.
Paul identified himself as a Jew from Tarsus and asked to speak to the people. The tribune gave him permission, and Paul was able to quiet the crowd enough that he was able to speak to them.
In verses 22:1-5 we can see that Paul began by addressing the crowd as “brothers and fathers,” the same address that Stephen used back in 7:2. Then he announced that he was giving a defense. The Greek word translated “defense” is apologia from which we get our English word “apology.” However, the use of the word “apology,” here is not the common one in English of apologizing for a mistake. Rather it is the use of he word in the less common way to mean a defense. For example, in theology we talk about the field of apologetics, which is a matter of defending the Christian faith.
That the NRSV translators say that Paul spoke in “Hebrew” is misleading. The NIV translation as “Aramaic” is much better, because that is the word Luke used. For Paul to speak in Aramaic also was a wise decision on his part. The crowd would have been much more open to what Paul had to say when he spoke to them in their own dialect.
Paul identified himself to them as a Jew from Tarsus who had studied in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, the greatest Pharisaic teacher of the day. And then he gave his testimony. He told them about his zeal for the law and how he persecuted the Way, that is the Christians, in Jerusalem and how had received letters from the Sanhedrin to go to Damascus to persecute Christians there.
In verses 6-11, we see a second testimony by Paul about his conversion. We read about his conversion back in chapter nine. However there, Luke told the story in the third person. Here Luke quotes Paul’s fist person account that he gave to the crowd. When his conversion took place, Paul was as dead set against Christians as ever. But the risen Jesus confronted Paul on the Damascus Road with a great, blinding light, which caused him to fall to the ground. Then Jesus spoke to Paul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” After Paul figured out who was speaking to him, he asked Jesus what he wanted him to do; and Jesus replied that he was to go to Damascus, where he would be given further direction. Since Paul was blinded, we see that someone had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus.
Verses 12-16 tell us that once Paul was in Damascus, a devout Jew named Ananias, who was well respected by all the Jews there, came to see him. Ananias, who also was a believer in Jesus, announced that Paul’s eyesight would be healed, which it was within the hour. Then Ananias declared a three-fold prophetic message to Paul. First, Paul was to know God’s will. Second, Paul was to see and hear the voice of the Righteous One, which was Jesus. And third, Paul was to “witness to all the world” what he had seen and heard (vv. 14-15). Of course all of this came true.
Then in verse 16 Ananias exhorted Paul to get on with his conversion process. First he told him to get up. We cannot get anywhere sitting around. We must get up and get going. Second, Ananias told Paul to get baptized. We cannot be fully effective as a Christian unless we are affiliated with, and committed to, Christ’s people, the Church. And third, Ananias told Paul to wash away his sins by calling on the name of the Lord.
Now some would interpret this to mean that the baptism would be the vehicle for the washing away of the sins. In some cases that may be true. But I believe it is significant that Paul separated the two, because one can be baptized without having one’s sins washed away; and one can have one’s sins washed away with being baptized. The key to forgiveness of sins is calling on the name of the Lord for forgiveness and his gift of the Holy Spirit in response to our faith.
In verses 17-21 Paul continued his testimony. He told them that after returning to Jerusalem from Damascus, he was worshipping in the temple when he fell into a trance and again saw the risen Jesus. This would have been during Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, which is described back in 9:26-30.
The risen Jesus told Paul to leave Jerusalem, because no one there would listen to him. Paul had the gall to argue with Jesus about it, because he thought his record of persecution of Christians would be a positive rather than a negative to his witness. But Jesus rejected Paul’s argument and told him he was sending him to the Gentiles. As it turned out, Paul had no choice anyway. Back in 9:29-30 we were told that certain Jews plotted to kill Paul. And Paul’s fellow Christians took him to Caesarea and put him on a ship to Tarsus.
Having completed Paul’s testimony, Luke returns to the story of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem (vv. 22-29). The crowd had listened to Paul’s testimony with relative patience up to this point, but when he said that the risen Jesus had commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles, they began to scream that he should not be allowed to live. The idea that God would favor Gentiles was impossible for Jews to accept.
Although the tribune did not understand all of the reasons for the Jewish hostility towards Paul, he understood perfectly how hostile they were. So he took Paul into the barracks and ordered him flogged to get the truth out of him. But Paul revealed to a centurion that he was a Roman citizen. The centurion told the tribune, and the tribune came to question Paul about it. Once the tribune realized that Paul was indeed a Roman citizen by birth, he cancelled the flogging.
However, notice that the tribune did not set Paul free. As we shall see in our next study, the tribune’s next move was to take Paul before the Jewish Sanhedrin for a hearing.