Online Bible Commentary
Let Us Not Fight Against God
Acts 23:1 Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who 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 those who stood by said, "Do you revile God's high priest? 5 Then Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.' " 6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!" 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection--and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. 9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees' party arose and protested, saying, "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God." 10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks. (NKJV)
The time is 57 A.D. Paul has just completed his third and final missionary journey and has returned to Jerusalem.
The Jews in Jerusalem are in an uproar over Paul’s Christian ministry and have accused him of bringing a Gentile into the temple. The Jewish mob was beating Paul with the intention of taking his life when Roman soldiers intervened. Paul was taken into protective custody by the Romans, but was released when they learned he was a Roman citizen. However, the Roman commander turned Paul over to the Jewish religious body, the Sanhedrin, to be judged.
In this passage, we see that Paul is being questioned by the Sanhedrin. Paul claims his innocence, stating "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (v. 1).
Ananias, the chief priest, is outraged by Paul’s claim, thinking that he is lying. He orders Paul to be struck in the mouth (v. 2). Paul reacts and speaks out "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" (v. 3)?
He accuses the high priest of being a “whitewashed wall”, which means that outwardly the high priest presents himself as just but inwardly he is corrupt, because it was against the law for Paul to be struck prior to judgment. Paul is then criticized by some in the Sanhedrin for his outburst against “God's high priest” (v. 4).
Paul responds that he did not know that Ananias was the high priest and quotes Exodus 22:28 inferring that he would never, knowingly, “speak evil of a ruler” (v. 5). Paul then devises a plan to divide and conquer his accusers.
Recognizing that some of the Sanhedrin are Pharisees and some are Sadducees, Paul decides to bring up their differences. Paul, a Pharisee, says, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged" (v. 6).
This statement causes a division between the Pharisees and Sadducees because Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, as well as angels and spirits, and Sadducees did not (vv. 7-8). The scribes of the Pharisees then state "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God" (v.9). The Pharisees are afraid of being guilty of fighting against God if Paul is harmed.
The two groups begin to physically fight over who would take possession of Paul and the Roman soldiers again intervene to save Paul from harm (v. 10a). Paul is then taken back to the Roman headquarters for his safety (v. 10b).
So the Pharisees were afraid of taking a position that would be against a position of God’s. Their concern should also be our concern.
As Christians we should always take care to obey God. Of course, we must be familiar with God’s positions in order to obey them. This means that we must be familiar with God’s Word, the Bible. This is just another good reason to read our Bible daily. Let us not fight against God.