Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. “Brothers and fathers! Listen to me as I make my defense before you now!”
Brothers and fathers. Stephen, Sha'ul's former enemy, used the same words to address an unfriendly audience (7:2&N); see also 23:1 &N. The fact that Sha'ul's circumstances here and his speech have several other features in common with Stephen's gives a certain sense of closure (see 7:58).
2. When they heard him speaking to them in Hebrew, they settled down more; so he continued:
In Hebrew. See 23:40N.
3. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city and trained at the feet of Gamli’el in every detail of the Torah of our forefathers. I was a zealot for God, as all of you are today.
Born in Tarsus. Sha'ul was born a Hellenistic Jew; by announcing this he increases his identification with his Asian accusers. But brought up in this city. He also identifies with the Jerusulemiles, probably the majority.
And trained at the feet of Gamli'el. On Gamli'el himself see 5:34N. Jewish tradition says nothing about Sha'ul's apprenticeship with the most distinguished rabbi and scholar of his time. In fact neither the Talmud nor any early midrash says anything about him at all — a fact that cries out for an explanation. In an article called "Paul and the Law — 'All Things to All Men,"' the Messianic Jewish scholar H. L. Ellison writes of Elisha ben-'Avuyah, who was one of the great rabbis of the early 2nd century and who is quoted in the Mishna (Avot 4:20) but later apostatized:
"He was excommunicated and is almost always referred to as Acher (The Other One). There was never any danger of tradition's keeping his memory green, for it told also of how he had deliberately profaned the Sabbath. In other words, his false teaching had been sterilized and rendered harmless, not so much by his excommunication but rather by his notorious breach of the law. With Paul, however, his memory had to be forgotten, for there were no slories that could be told about him that would neutralize his teaching." (Included in W. Gasque and R. Martin, editors. Apostolic History and the Gospel, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970, p. 199)
This is because Sha'ul, unlike Elisha ben-'Avuyah. kept the Law all his life, as the rest of Ellison's article proves and as I have shown at 13:9N, 16:3N and 21:21 N. Aware of this, and heeding the principle that "the only bad publicity is having your name misspelled," the rabbis said nothing about Sha'ul. The principle is still in use; often the non-Messianic Jewish community's response to Messianic Judaism, especially the forms of it which are willing to grapple seriously with relating to the Torah. is to ignore it publicly, to pretend it doesn't exist — in the hope that it will go away, which it will not. Trained... in every detail of the Torah... and I was as zealous for God as all of you are today. Sha'ul completes the recitation of his credentials by reminding his hearers that he too knows the Torah and has stood in their shoes, as zealous as they (compare Ga 1:13-14&NN). It is said that a fool learns from his own experience, but a wise man can learn from the experience of others. Sha'ul hopes that even among this zealous mob there will be some who are wise and can profit from hearing where their present path leads.
4. I persecuted to death the followers of this Way, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.
5. The cohen hagadol and the whole Sanhedrin can also testify to this. Indeed, after receiving letters from them to their colleagues in Dammesek, I was on my way there in order to arrest the ones in that city too and bring them back to Yerushalayim for punishment.
6. “As I was traveling and approaching Dammesek, around noon, suddenly a brilliant light from heaven flashed all around me!
7. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Sha’ul! Sha’ul! Why do you keep persecuting me?’
8. I answered, ‘Sir, who are you?’ ‘I am Yeshua from Natzeret,’ he said to me, ‘and you are persecuting me!’
9. Those who were with me did see the light, but they didn’t hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.
10. I said ‘What should I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up, and go into Dammesek, and there you will be told about everything that has been laid out for you to do.’
11. I had been blinded by the brightness of the light, so my companions led me by the hand into Dammesek.
12. “A man named Hananyah, an observant follower of the Torah who was highly regarded by the entire Jewish community there,
Chananyah, an observant follower of the Torah who was highly regarded by the entire Jewish community, or: "...who[se character] is witnessed to by all the Jews living there." In other words, the fact that he was a Torah-tme Jew can be verified by whoever wants to do so. This fact about Chananyah, not reported at 9:10-17, is relevant for Sha'ul's present audience. (Another instance of Sha'ul's appealing to objective verifiability is when he answered those who doubted whether Yeshua had actually been resurrected; see 1С 15:5-8&NN.)
13. came to me, stood by me and said, ‘Brother Sha’ul, see again!’ And at that very moment, I recovered my sight and saw him.
14. He said, ‘The God of our fathers (Exodus 3:15) determined in advance that you should know his will, see the Tzaddik and hear his voice;
The Tzjaddik, or "the Righteous One"; see 7:52&N, where Stephen too used this term for Yeshua the Messiah. At Isaiah 53:11 God speaks of "my righteous servant," who will "make many righteous."
15. because you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.
16. So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, immerse yourself and have your sins washed away as you call on his name.’
Immerse yourself, Greek baptisai; the verb is in the middle voice, which means that it has reflexive force. If the word were in the passive voice here, "be immersed" would be appropriate. Jewish practice in the mikveh, for proselyte baptism as well as for other ritual purifications, is self-immersion, in contrast with the common present-day Christian baptismal practice of being immersed by someone else.
This second report of Sha'ul's coming to trust in Yeshua diverges in some details from those at 9:3-19 and 26:13-18. See 26:13-18N on reconciling the differences.
17. “After I had returned to Yerushalayim, it happened that as I was praying in the Temple, I went into a trance,
It happened that as I was praying in the Temple, I went into a trance, Greek ebtasis, "standing outside oneself." The ecstasy was unusual, but Sha'ul's praying in the Temple area was normal Jewish behavior. This fact, which Shu'ul mentions casually, without emphasis, all the more strongly evidences that Sha'ul continued his usual Jewish practices after coming to faith in Yeshua (see 13:9N, 21:2I-24&NN).
18. and I saw Yeshua. ‘Hurry!’ he said to me, ‘Get out of Yerushalayim immediately, because they will not accept what you have to say about me.’
19. I said, ‘Lord, they know themselves that in every synagogue I used to imprison and flog those who trusted in you;
20. also that when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I was standing there too, in full agreement; I was even looking after the clothes of the ones who were killing him!’
21. But he said, ‘Get going! For I am going to send you far away — to the Goyim!’”
I am going to send you far away, to the Goyim. The Messianic Community in Jerusalem sent Sha'ul home to Tarsus (9:30), where for some thirteen years he had the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Later, with this experience behind him, he set out on his travels to reach non-Jews throughout the Eastern Mediterranean area.
The Lord tells Sha'ul to leave Jerusalem because the Jewish people there will not respond to his message. Sha'ul immediately trots out his Jewish credentials, objecting that the Jews of Jerusalem ought to accept what he says now because they know how diligently he opposed the believers in the past (w. 4-5). But Yeshua repeats his command. "Get going!" (v. 21).
Why won't the Jews of Jerusalem hear Sha'ul? Because a believer's having opposed the Gospel in the past is not what makes a nonbeliever believe. On the contrary, the believer's faith now outweighs everything else about him. No matter how reasonable his beliefs seem to himself now, a believer cannot substitute his own stormy process of coming to faith for that of someone else.
Therefore, in instructing Sha'ul to get on with his task of evangelizing the Gentiles (v. 21) Yeshua is saving Sha'ul years of fruitless endeavor which would have been the outcome of following his own natural desire to devote all his energy to winning his Jewish brothers (Ro 10:1). Sha'ul's earthly wisdom would not have led him to the specific mission Yeshua had designed for him. The Lord knows better than we how we can best serve him. Moreover, the book of Acts shows that Sha'ul experienced no small measure of success with Jews as well.
22. They had been listening to him up to this point; but now they shouted at the top of their lungs, “Rid the earth of such a man! He’s not fit to live!”
The objection was to Sha'ul's message, which grants Gentiles equality with Jews as part of God's people; see Ep 2:11-16&NN. That this was the objection is proved by 21:27-30.
23. They were screaming, waving their clothes and throwing dust into the air;
Waving their clothes gave their anger a visible dimension. Likewise they probably were throwing dust only because there were no stones handy (compare 7:58, Yn 8:59). My guess, based on thirteen years of living in the Middle East, is that the dust was not thrown in the air vaguely or ceremonially but purposefully and vigorously in Sha'ul's direction!
24. so the commander ordered him brought into the barracks and directed that he be interrogated and whipped, in order to find out why they were yelling at him like this.
The commander, still convinced Sha'ul musl be a dangerous criminal, since he had not understood Sha'ul's message in Hebrew (v. 2), was determined to whip the truth out of him.
25. But as they were stretching him out with thongs to be flogged, Sha’ul said to the captain standing by, “Is it legal for you to whip a man who is a Roman citizen and hasn’t even had a trial?”
As in Philippi (16:36-40&N) Sha'ul makes full use of his legal rights not merely to save his hide but also to protect the honor of the Gospel. Both whipping him and binding him in chains (v. 29) would violate his rights as a Roman citizen. Since Sha'ul had not been charged, nor had the commander been informed of grounds for a charge, whipping Sha'ul prior to a trial would have been a misuse of authority for which the commander would have been liable. By questioning the whipping Sha'ul was saving the commander as well as himself an unpleasant experience.
26. When the captain heard that, he went and reported it to the commander, “Do you realize what you’re doing? This man is a Roman citizen!”
27. The commander came and said to Sha’ul, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes,” he said.
Sha'ul's "Yes" is certainly true; summary death awaited anyone falsely claiming Roman citizenship.
28. The commander replied, “I bought this citizenship for a sizeable sum of money.” “But I was born to it,” Sha’ul said.
29. At once the men who had been about to interrogate him drew back from him; and the commander was afraid too, because he realized that he had put this man who was a Roman citizen in chains.
30. However, the next day, since he wanted to know the specific charge the Judeans were bringing against him, he released him and ordered the head cohanim and the whole Sanhedrin to meet. Then he brought Sha’ul down and put him in front of them.
The only way the commander can now find grounds for holding Sha'ul is to receive an accusation from others, in this case the Sanhedrin.
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