When the Roman commander realized that Paul did not represent any threat to the empire; that is, that the issue involved internal disputes of the Jews, he asked the Sanhedrin to take up the case (Acts 22:30; Acts 23:29).
Read Acts 23:1-5. How did Paul start his defense before the Sanhedrin?
Paul’s introductory statement was met with a slap on the mouth, perhaps because, as a prisoner, his reference to God sounded blasphemous. His impulsive reaction gives us a glimpse of his temperament. By calling the high priest a “whitewashed wall” (Acts 23:3, NKJV), he could be echoing Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy in Matthew 23:27. Yet, since Paul did not really know he was addressing the high priest, the possibility that he had bad eyesight is not to be entirely ruled out.
Read Acts 23:6-10. How did Paul ingeniously try to disrupt the proceedings?
The Sanhedrin was comprised of both Sadducees and Pharisees who were opposed to each other on a number of issues, doctrine being one of them. The Sadducees, for example, whose scriptural canon included only the first five books of Moses (the Pentateuch), did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Matt. 22:23-32).
Paul’s statement (Acts 23:6), however, was more than a clever tactic to distract the Sanhedrin. Since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus road lay at the foundation of his conversion and apostolic ministry, belief in the resurrection was the real issue he was being judged for (Acts 24:20-21; Acts 26:6-8). Nothing else could explain how he had changed from his former zeal to become what he was now. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then his ministry was pointless, and he knew it, too (1 Cor. 15:14-17).
That night, as Paul was in the fortress, the Lord appeared to him with this encouragement: “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11, NKJV). Given the circumstances, such a promise might have been particularly meaningful to Paul. His long-cherished wish to preach in Rome (Acts 19:21, Rom. 1:13-15, Rom. 15:22-29) would still come to pass.