The First Hearing: Acts 22:30-23:5
“30) But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.”
“1) Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” 2) The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. 3) Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 4) But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5) And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ”” Acts‬ ‭22:30-23‬:‭‭5‬ ‭
So Paul’s first hearing begins. The commander ordered the Sanhedrin to assemble and bring accusations against Paul. It was customary in both Jewish and Roman Law that the accused stand before his or her accusers.
This is reminiscent of the trail of Jesus, with the exception that Paul was not silent before his accusers. With Paul’s first statement of innocence, the high priest commanded those present to strike him on the mouth.
Note that Paul claimed to have lived his life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to that day. It was not only a claim to innocence, it was a claim of righteousness according to the Law. (See Philippians 3:4-6) As to the righteousness found in the Law, Paul claimed to be blameless.
With the slap to the mouth, the high priest was violating the due process promised by the Law. (Leviticus 19:15). The high priest by his action demonstrated that he was both bias and prejudice against Paul. He fell short as an impartial judge. He violated his oath of office. Paul quickly pointed out that the action was in total hypocrisy and contrary to the Law.
Paul then called the high priest a “whitewashed wall” and threatened God’s judgement on him.” The wording was on par with the charge of Jesus against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27, except that Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs.” It was an accusation of “covered over corruption.”
Yet with the revelation that Ananias was high priest, Paul quickly changed his tone and opted for honor and respect of the office. This self restraint proved Paul’s claim to be a righteous and honorable man.
The reader is left to imagine the observation of the Roman Commander from this opening exchange. The high priest by his preemptive action did little to demonstrate restraint, patience or the desire for truth and justice. Meanwhile, Paul took the high road and displayed honor and respect for authority. It was far from the temperament of a criminal.
There is an irony at this point in the story. It was Paul and not the high priest who was the Roman citizen and deserving of respect. By his actions, the high priest was slapping more than Paul in the face, he was slapping Rome! Worse yet, as the proceedings unfolded, not one charge of wrong doing was leveled against Paul at this hearing.
As Christians, we are called to live with a clear conscience and show honor and respect for authority at the same time. Paul demonstrated this posture in this story. He was an example of being salt and light in the world. We are also called to win respect and favor by our good character.
Paul did nothing to hurt his testimony or the cause of Christ in this exchange. From the Roman Commanders perspective; Round One went to Paul.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global