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Pau's Conscience (Acts 23,24)

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Acts 23

Paul’s defence before the high priest
And Paul looked straight at the council, and said: Brothers, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day. 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him: God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law? 4 And they that stood by said: Do you revile God's high priest? 5 And Paul said: I did not recognize, brothers, that he was high priest. For it is written, you shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.
   6 But when Paul noticed that one part was Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council: Brothers, I am a Pharisee, son of a Pharisee! Concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. 7 And when he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit; but the Pharisees believe in both. 9 And there arose a great clamour; and some of the scribes of the Pharisees stood up and argued, saying: We find no evil in this man. What if a spirit has spoken to him, or an angel? 10 And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the fortress.
   11 And the following night the Lord stood by him, and said: Take courage, for as you have testified concerning me in Jerusalem, so also you must testify in Rome.

The plan to kill Paul
   12 And when it was day, the Jews banded together and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. 13 And more than forty persons participated in this conspiracy. 14 And they came to the chief priests and the elders, and said: We have bound ourselves under a great curse, to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 Now then, you with the council petition the chief captain to bring him down to you, as though you would judge his case more exactly; and we, before he comes near, will be ready to slay him.
   16 But Paul's sister's son heard of their ambush, and he went and entered into the fortress and told Paul. 17 And Paul summoned one of the centurions, and said: Take this young man to the chief captain; for he has something to tell him. 18 So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said: Paul the prisoner summoned me, and asked me to bring this young man, who has something to say to you. 19 And the chief captain took him by the hand, and taking him aside asked him privately: What is it you have to tell me? 20 He said: The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. 21 But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink until they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for your consent to their request. 22 So the chief captain let the young man go, ordering him: Tell no one you have told these things to me.
   23 And he summoned two of the centurions and said: Make ready two hundred soldiers to go as far as Caesarea, and seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen, at the third hour of the night. 24 And provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Felix the governor. 25 And he wrote a letter after this form:
   26 Claudius Lysias to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. 27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be slain by them, when I intervened with soldiers and rescued him, having learnt that he was a Roman. 28 And desiring to know the cause why they accused him, I brought him down to their council. 29 I found him to be accused about questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or imprisonment. 30 And when it was told that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you, ordering his accusers also to speak against him before you.
   31 So the soldiers, as commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 But the next day they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the fortress. 33 And they, when they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, presented Paul also before him. 34 And when he had read it, he asked of what province he was; and when he understood that he was of Cilicia, he said: 35 I will hear you fully when your accusers also have come; and he commanded him to be kept in Herod's palace.


23:1 Can we say this? But the Lord Jesus Himself informs us that Paul kicked against the pricks of his own conscience before his conversion (Acts 9:5). Maybe Paul perceived his ‘life’ to have begun at his conversion? We have a conscience which in God's eyes is cleansed of sin, knowing that our sin has been overcome once and for all, and that we have access to this through baptism. Our hearts were purified by that faith (Acts 15:9); we were cleansed from the conscience of sins (Heb. 9:14); all things became pure to us (Tit. 1:15; Rom. 14:20). This is a good conscience, Biblically defined. When Paul said he had a pure conscience before God, they smote him for blasphemy because there is an association between a clear conscience and perfection (Heb. 9:9; 10:14). A clear conscience therefore means an awareness that in God's eyes, we have no sin. Whilst we may still have twinges of guilt, and sins to confess, from God's viewpoint the slate is clean, and has been since our baptism. It is impossible to believe this responding- we are purged in our conscience so that we might serve the living God (Heb. 9:14).

23:5 This can be read as Paul claiming that he didn't recognize this high priest, as Christ was his high priest, therefore his cursing was justified.

23:6 The hope of the Gospel is that when Jesus returns, we who are in Christ by faith and baptism shall be resurrected from the dead and live eternally. Going to Heaven at death isn’t taught in the Bible; the focus is upon the return of Christ to earth and the literal resurrection of the dead to live eternally in God’s Kingdom on earth.

23:6 Paul says “I am a Pharisee”, not “I was a Pharisee and now repudiate their false doctrines and crucifixion of Jesus”. He didn’t have any sense of being guilty by association with them. Rather he sought to be ‘all things to all people’, to the Jews he became as a Jew, in order that he might win people to Christ (1 Cor. 9:20,21).