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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : Acts 22:23-30

Commentary On Acts Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Acts 22:23-30

23. And as they cried, and cast off their garments, and threw dust into the air, 24. The chief captain commanded him to be led into the camp; and he commanded that he should be scourged and examined, that he might know for what cause they cried so on him.25. And when they had bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned? 26. When the centurion heard that, he went to the chief captain, and told him, saying, What wilt thou do? for this man is a Roman.27. And when the chief captain came, he said to him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? And he said, Yea.28. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum I purchased this freedom. And Paul said, I was so born.29. Then those who were about to examine him departed from him immediately: and the chief captain also was afraid, after that he knew that he was a Roman, and that he had bound him.30. And on the next day, when he would know the truth, he loosed him from his bonds, and commanded the high priests and all the council to come together, and he brought Paul and set him before them.

24. The chief captain. It was well and wisely done of the chief captain thus to withdraw Paul from the sight of the people, forasmuch as his presence did move and more provoke them who were already too much moved. For by this means he provideth for the life of the holy man, and partly appeaseth the madness of the people. But when he com-mandeth him to be scourged, to whose charge he heard no certain crime laid, he seemeth to deal unjustly. And yet this injury [injustice] was not without color, because it was likely that it was, not without cause, that all the people had conspired to put one man to death. Therefore, a vehement presumption was the cause of so strait examination. But we must note that this is a common custom among politic men, that they be just judges, so far as is expedient for them; but if they be called away by profit, then they go out of the way. Nevertheless, it is sufficient for them to color this their wickedness with the title of wisdom, because they hold that general principle, that the world cannot be governed without some show or color of justice; but in all actions that subtilty whereof I spake doth prevail, that they consider rather what is profitable than what is equal and right.

25. Is it lawful? He allegeth first the privilege of the city, then he defendeth himself by common law. And though there were more weight in the second point, (to wit, that it is not lawful to scourge a man before his cause is heard) yet should he have prevailed nothing, unless the centurion had been more moved with the honor of the Roman empire. For nothing was then more heinous than to do any thing which was contrary to the liberty of the people of Rome. Valerius' law, the law of Porcius, and of Sempronius, and such like, did forbid that no man should do any violence to the body of the city of Rome without the commandment of the people. The privilege was so (sure and) holy, that they thought it to be not only a deadly offense, but also such an offense as could not be purged, that a citizen of Rome should be beaten.

Therefore, Paul escaped rather by the privilege than by common equity, yet did he not doubt in a good cause to bear off the injury which was prepared for him, with this buckler of the city. But we must know that he did so allege the right and privilege of the city, that the chief captain was brought to believe him, because his words should not hare been credited unless he had used some proof. Moreover, it was no hard matter for a man, who was well known, to bring forth witnesses. We alleged a cause in the sixteenth chapter, why he suffered himself to be scourged at Philippos, [Philippi] which he now preventeth by his own declaration; to wit, because he should not have been heard in a tumult raised among the common people (Acts 16:37). But because he hath now to deal with the soldiers of Rome, who did behave themselves more moderately and gravely, he useth the opportunity.

26. This man is a Roman. Some man may marvel that he was so credulous, who was appointed to be chief in examining Paul, that he doth affirm the thing, as if he knew it to be so. For if he ought to believe Paul's words, every malefactor might, by this shift, have escaped punishment. But this was their manner of dealing, he which did say that he was a citizen of Rome, unless he could bring in some which knew him, or prove it lawfully, he was punished; for it was death for any man to pretend the freedom of the city falsely. Wherefore, the centurion referreth the matter unto the chief captain, as doubting thereof; and he (as we have said) doth straightway examine the matter more thoroughly. And though Luke doth not express by what testimonies Paul did prove himself to be a citizen of Rome, yet, undoubtedly, the chief captain knew the truth of the matter before he loosed him.

28. With a great sum. The chief captain objecteth this to refute him as if he should say, that the freedom of the city is not so common, and easily to be obtained. How can it be that thou, being some base fellow of the country of the Cilicians, shouldst obtain this honor, for which I paid sweetly? Whereas Paul maketh answer, that he was free born, who never saw the city, yea, whose father it may be was never there, there is no cause why this should trouble any man. For those who are skillful in the Roman history know that certain were made free of the city who dwelt in the provinces, if, having deserved well of the commonwealth, or in war, or in other weighty affairs, they did desire and crave this reward of the deputies, [proconsuls] so that it is no absurdity to say that he was born a citizen of Rome, who, descending by his ancestors of some province far distant from Rome, did never set foot in Italy. Notwithstanding, the question is, how this can hang together, that the chief captain was afraid, because he had bound a citizen of Rome, and yet he did not loose him from his bonds until the morrow? It may be that he deferred it till the next day, lest he should show some token of fear. Notwithstanding, I think that the chief captain was afraid, because Paul was bound at his commandment, that he might be scourged, because this was to do injury to the body of a citizen of Rome, and to break the common liberty, and that [although] it was lawful to put a Roman in prison.

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