25 May 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 24:10-21. b). The defence by Paul.
As soon as *the governor mention him to speak*, Paul launched into his defence. He also began with a *captatio Benevolentiae*, although it was considerately more modest and moderate than Tertullus’ had been: *I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defence* (1). He then proceeded to refute the prosecution’s allegations one by one.
First, he was emphatically not a troublemaker. *You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship (11). My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city (12). And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me* (13). In other words, in the few days at his disposal he had had no time to foment an insurrection; he had had no intention of doing so either, since he went to Jerusalem as a pilgrim to worship, not as an agitator to cause a riot; and his accusers could produce no evidence that in temple, synagogue or city he had caused a disturbance or even engaged in an argument.
Secondly, Paul addressed himself to the charge that he was ‘a ringleader of the Nazarene sect’. This led him to affirmation as well as denial. Although he was indeed ‘a follower of the Way’, this was not a ‘sect’, as they called it, for he worshipped the God of their fathers and believed the teaching of the Scriptures.
Here was Paul’s public confession of faith (*homologo*, ‘I confess’, 14). It consisted of four affirmations: (i) ‘I worship the God of our fathers’; (ii) ‘I believe everything that agrees with the Law and… the prophets’; (iii) ‘I have the same hope in God as these men’; and (iv) ‘I strive always [JB, “as much as they”] to keep my conscience clear…’. Paul’s purpose in this was not just to make a personal declaration, however, but to insist that he shared it with the whole people of God. He worshipped the same God (‘the God of our fathers’), believed in the same truths (the Law and the Prophets), shared the same hope (the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked) and cherished the same ambition (to keep a clear conscience). He was not an innovator, therefore, but loyal to the ancestral faith. Nor was he a sectarian or heretical deviant, for he stood squarely in mainstream Judaism. His worship, faith, hope and goal were no different from theirs. ‘The Way’ enjoyed a direct continuity with the Old Testament, for the Scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ as the one in whom God’s promises had been fulfilled.
The third accusation against Paul was that he profaned the temple (7). This the apostle strenuously denied.
Far from desecrating the temple, Paul’s purpose in visiting Jerusalem had been religious (‘to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings’, 17) and his condition, when he was found in the temple doing this, had been one of ceremonial purity (18). There was no crowd and no disturbance. It was certain Asian Jews , who had interfered with him a caused a riot (though Paul left his sentence unfinished) just when he was demonstrating his love for his nation and his respect for its laws. Why were these men not in court to press their charges? (19). Their absence was a serious breach of Roman law, which ‘was very strong against accusers who abandoned their charges’. Since those Asian Jews were not there as witnesses, then those who were there should state of what crime the Sanhedrin had convicted him (20). The fact is that the Pharisees had declared him innocent of any crime (23:9); only the Sadducees thought him guilty, and that only of a theological belief concerning the resurrection of the dead (21).
Tomorrow: Acts 24:22-27. The adjournment by Felix.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.