Online Bible Commentary
Born a Citizen
Acts 22:22 And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!" 23 Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him. 25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?" 26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, "Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman." 27 Then the commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" He said, "Yes." 28 The commander answered, "With a large sum I obtained this citizenship." And Paul said, "But I was born a citizen." 29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. 30 The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them. (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 allowed one last chance to defend himself to the Jews.
Now, in this passage, the mob again goes into a frenzy when Paul brings up his ministry to the Gentiles and he is whisked away by the Romans (vv. 22-24a). The Roman commander does not understand why the presence of Paul is causing such a commotion (v. 24b). He may not understand the Aramaic language which Paul has used to defend himself to the Jews. Whatever the case, the commander decides that scourging Paul might bring out the truth (v. 24c).
Scourging was a punishment commonly used by Jews and Romans, alike. In the Roman form of scourging the victim was stripped and strapped with cords, called thongs, to a wooden frame. He was then beaten with rods or leather strips with metal fastened to them. Scourging of Roman citizens was illegal.
So Paul is stripped and is being strapped to the wooden frame. But Paul knows his rights as a Roman citizen. These rights previously allowed him to be released from a prison in Philippi.
Therefore, Paul speaks up to the centurion standing nearby saying "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned” (v. 25)? Hearing this, and knowing the law, the centurion reports to the commander warning him to “take care what you do, for this man is a Roman" (v. 26).
The commander comes to Paul and Paul confirms to him that he is a Roman citizen (v. 27). The commander states that he purchased his citizenship and Paul states that he was “born a citizen” (v. 28).
There are four ways to become a Roman citizen. You may purchase citizenship with a large sum of money, sometimes a year’s wages. You are a Roman citizen if your father was one. You are a Roman citizen if you are born in a city of the Roman Empire. And you can become a Roman citizen by having it awarded to you for services rendered to the Empire. Paul was born in Taurus, a city of the Roman Empire, and his father was a Roman citizen.
Upon learning that Paul is a Roman citizen, the commander halts all proceedings and releases Paul the next day (vv. 29-30a). However, the commander still wants to know why Paul caused such a disruption so he commands “the chief priests and all their council to appear” and brings Paul to be judged by them (v. 30b).
So Paul is saved from scourging because he was “born a citizen” of the Roman Empire. A Christian also is “born a citizen”. He becomes a citizen of the Kingdom of God when he becomes a born again Christian, born into the family of God. His citizenship is more valuable than any other citizenship. His citizenship rewards him with eternal life in Heaven.