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.’”
earnestly beholding (v.1) — perhaps this indicates that Paul was no longer acting humbly before his accusers but as an equal, recognizing that his chances were better with the Romans and that this was not a true trial.
council (v.1) — the Sanhedrin — As a Pharisee, Paul was formerly a member.
I have lived (v.1) = lit. “I have behaved as a citizen”
Ananias (v2) — Son of Nedebaeus, high priest A.D. 47-59. He received his appointment through Herod of Chalcis. On account of acts of violence against the Samaritans during his term of office, he was summoned to Rome for inquiry, but was acquitted through the influence of the younger Agrippa.
Jospehus describes his avariciousness and acts of robbery and violence. He seems to have been deposed towards the end of Felix’s tenure of office as procurator. His treatment of Paul agrees with what we otherwise know of him. He met with a violent death at the hands of the Sicarii some years after his deposition from office, in A.D. 66. — The Acts of the Apostles, by Thomas Walker, page 487.
whited wall (v.3) — hypocrite — a whitewashed coat of paint on a precarious, about-t0-fall-down wall
I did not know (v.5) — some say this is because of Paul’s poor eyesight, some say it’s because Paul didn’t consider Ananais to be worthy of the office and some say Paul truly didn’t know. (See Stam, below.)
In the first place, it would not be like Paul to “speak evil of dignitaries.” Second, Israel’s high priests, at this time in her history, were appointed with gross irregularity, partly due to national apostasy from God’s commands and partly to Rome’s intrusion, so that one illegitimate high priest after another held office and the council was even presided over, at times, by substitute “high priests.” Under these circumstances — and Paul having been in Jerusalem but a few days — it is quite understandable that he would not recognize the high priest.
Had the apostle known that it was the high priest who had ordered him smitten he would have refrained from rebuking him in view of the command in Exodus 22:28. But having done so he merely explained how this had come about and retracted neither his rebuke nor his prediction. The more shame that the high priest should be guilty of so brazenly violating the basic rules of justice. — Acts Dispensationally Considered, by C.R. Stam, pages 68-69.
written (v.5) — Exodus 22:28, from the Septuigent
Some commentaries state that Paul was upset — angry at his treatment as a criminal, frustrated by the rejection of the Jews he came to help, sore from his beating and rough treatment, and probably tired. They maintain that his opening statement was self-justification and not Spirit-led, and that in response to being hit he lost control and was acting in his old nature. Stam has a different take (below).
Fault has been found with the apostle for not showing the same humility as had his Lord when similarly outraged. In this connection it should be observed that our Lord had come to earth especially to take the blame and bear the penalty for the sins of others and particularly for His peole, Israel, while on this occasion Paul faced Israel’s rulers after their final demonstration of apostasy against Messiah. The actions of both our Lord and Paul on these two occasions are therefore representative; the one of God’s mercy to Israel, the other of His judgment upon them. — Stam, page 67.