XXII: 1, 2. (1) |Men, brethren, and fathers, hear my defense, which I now make to you. (2) And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, they kept the greater quiet.| It is happily remarked by Mr. Howson, that, had he spoken in Greek, the majority of his hearers would have understood him; but, |the sound of the holy tongue in that holy place fell like a calm upon the troubled waters.| It was a mark of respect for Jewish nationality which they were not prepared to expect from Paul; and the result was, that the silence, which was only general at the waving of his hand, became universal at the utterance of his first sentence.
3-16. (3) |And he said, I myself am a Jew; born in Tarsus of Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strictest doctrine of the law of our fathers, and was zealous toward God as you all are this day. (4) I persecuted this way, even to death; binding and delivering into prisons both men and women; (5) as the high priest and the whole body of the elders are my witnesses: from whom, also, I received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring those who were there bound to Jerusalem, that they might be punished. (6) But it came to pass, as I journeyed and was drawing near to Damascus, about noon, a great light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. (7) I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (8) And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? He said to me, I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you persecute. (9) Now, they who were with me saw the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him who spoke to me. (10) And I said, Lord, what shall I do? And the Lord said to me, Arise, and go into Damascus, and there it shall be told thee concerning all things which are appointed for thee to do. (11) And, as I could not see for the glory of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and went into Damascus. (12) And one Ananias, a pious man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who dwelt there, (13) came to me, and stood, and said to me, Brother Saul, look up. And that moment I looked up upon him. (14) And he said, The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will, and to see the Just One, and to hear the voice of his mouth. (15) For you shall be a witness for him to all men, of what you have seen and heard. (16) And now, why do you tarry? Arise, and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.| Such portions of this speech as are necessary to the full understanding of Paul's conversion, we have considered in commenting on the ninth chapter. The words of Ananias, |Arise and be immersed,| probably demand a moment's additional notice, on account of the use which has been made of them by many pedobaptist writers and speakers of an inferior grade. It is urged that the words should be rendered, |Standing up, be baptized;| and that they indicate that Paul was baptized on the spot, without leaving the house. We might admit the rendering without granting the conclusion; for the command to be baptized required him to do whatever was necessary to that act. If the act was immersion, it required him to go where it could be performed, however great the distance, and the words are entirely consistent with that idea. If he was to be immersed, he must, of necessity, arise from his prostrate or sitting position for that purpose. If he was to be sprinkled, he might as well have remained, as candidates for that ceremony now commonly do, upon his knees.
17-21. After this brief account of his course of persecution and his conversion, he advances to the events which occurred upon his return to Jerusalem, and which led to that peculiar ministry that had excited the hatred of his hearers. (17) |And it came to pass, when I returned to Jerusalem, and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance, (18) and saw him saying to me, Make haste, and depart quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive your testimony concerning me. (19) And I said, Lord, they know that I was imprisoning and beating in every synagogue those who believe on thee, (20) and when the blood of thy witness, Stephen, was shed, I myself was standing by, and consenting to his death, and guarding the raiment of those who slew him. (21) And he said to me, Depart, for I will send you far hence to the Gentiles.|
By allowing Paul to speak, Lysias expected to learn something about the charges against him, supposing that he would address himself immediately and strictly to a defense. What must have been his surprise, then, to hear him, after asking the people to hear his defense, proceed with a narrative, the bearing of which upon the case was so obscure? It must be confessed that the speech afforded very little of the light that he was seeking; and even to men who are better prepared to understand it than he, it is still a source of astonishment. Here is a man in the hands of a heathen soldiery, with a prison-door opening behind him, and before him a mob thirsting for his blood, whom to appease would save him from prison, and, perhaps, from death, yet appearing to be utterly oblivious to the danger which surrounded him, and though permitted to speak, making not the slightest effort to obtain release. He could most truthfully have denied bringing Greeks into the temple, or speaking improperly of the people, the law, or that holy place; but he was so far elevated above all selfish considerations, that he desired no vindication of himself not involving a vindication of the cause he was pleading. He saw before him a deluded multitude rushing blindly to destruction, and though they were thirsting for his own blood, he pitied them, and resolved to give them light. Under the smart of the bruises they had inflicted on him, and amid their wild outcries, he remembered when he once took part in similar mobs, and the blood of Stephen rose up before his vision. This enabled him to excuse their rage, and, as the vision of Christ glorified, which he had witnessed on the road to Damascus, had changed him from a persecutor to a disciple, he resolved to try its effect upon them. He did not altogether miscalculate its power; for they listened to the whole account of his conversion with profound attention. The narrative demonstrated the divine authority of Jesus, and enabled Paul to assume, as a basis for his further argument, that it was proper to do whatever he might command. He then proceeds to account for his going to the Gentiles. It was not my own choice, for I desired to stay in Jerusalem. But the Lord commanded me in a vision to leave the city. I even remonstrated against his decision, when he peremptorily commanded, |Depart, for I will send you far hence to the Gentiles.|
22-24. When he reached this point in his discourse, he appeared to the mob about to vindicate the course which they condemned as criminal, instead of apologizing for it, and their rage was renewed. (22) |Now they heard him up to this word, then raised their voices and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth! For it is not fit that he should live. (23) And as they were shouting, and tossing up their garments, and casting dust into the air, (24) the chiliarch commanded him to be led into the castle, saying that he should be examined by scourging, in order that he might know on what account they cried out so against him.| The idea of scourging a man who is assailed by a mob, to make him confess the cause for which he is assailed, is most abhorrent to all proper sense of justice, yet it prevailed in the most enlightened heathen nations of antiquity. Rome, it is true, exempted from its effects all who enjoyed the rights of citizenship; but the existence of such a distinction in a matter in which all human beings should have equal rights, is a further proof of their ignorance of the true principles of public justice. To the enlightening and rectifying influence of Christianity, modern nations are indebted for many happy changes in jurisprudence.
25-29. When Paul was led within the castle, the executioner made immediate preparation for his cruel work. (25) |And as he was bending him forward with the straps Paul said to the centurion, who was standing by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned? (26) When the centurion heard this, he went and told the chiliarch, saying, Take heed what you are about to do, for this man is a Roman. (27) Then the chiliarch came and said to him, Tell me, are you a Roman? And he said, Yes. (28) And the chiliarch answered, With a great sum I obtained this citizenship. And Paul said, But I was born so. (29) Then they who were about to examine him immediately departed from him; and the chiliarch was alarmed, when he knew that he was a Roman, and that he had bound him.| Previous to applying the scourge, the victim was bent forward upon a reclining post, to which he was bound by straps. It was this binding which caused the alarm of the chiliarch, and not the binding of his arms with chains. The latter was legal, and hence Paul remained so bound, but the former was illegal. It was just at the critical moment, when he was bent forward upon the post, and the straps were being adjusted, that the quiet assertion of citizenship caused his release, and struck terror into the heart of the officer. Notwithstanding this exemption was extended only to a favored few, we can but admire the majesty of a law, which in a remote province, and within the walls of a prison, suddenly released a prisoner from the whipping-post, by the simple declaration, |I am a Roman citizen.|
30. Lysias was disposed to do his duty, but he experienced great difficulty in deciding what is was. He had first inquired of the mob; had then heard a speech from Paul; and had now gone as far as he dared toward the trial by scourging; yet he knew nothing more about the charges against his prisoner than he did at first. He determined to make one more effort. (30) |On the next day, desiring to know the certainty as to what he was accused of by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the high priests and the whole Sanhedrim to come together, and brought Paul down, and placed him before them.|