Sunday, January 20, 2013

When Paul Reviled the High Priest

"And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'  And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth.  Then Paul said to him, 'God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!  And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?' But the bystanders said, 'Do you revile God's high priest?' 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 23:1-5

This passage is one that I occasionally think about, and wonder at the common interpretation.  The only way I've ever heard this passage interpreted is that Paul rebukes the high priest, which is a sin, and is corrected by the bystanders.  Paul then realizes his sin and apologizes, quoting the scripture that applies to his sin.  But something has never set right with me in terms of Paul's "apology."  It simply doesn't seem like an apology.  And something else caused me to come up with an altogether different interpretation.

This something else is when Paul says, "I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest."  In the very next verse Paul says this: "But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, 'Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" Acts 23:6

Now, here's where things don't add up.  Paul claims to not know that Ananias was high priest.  Huh?  How could a Pharisee not know who the high priest was?  That seems pretty much impossible.  It would be like saying that retired Gen. Colin Powell wouldn't know who the president was.  I think Paul new exactly who the high priest was and that the man who issued the order was he.

I think far more likely is that when Paul said he wasn't aware that this man was high priest, he was giving a sarcastic jab to the high priest.  To put it in modern American English terms, Paul was in effect saying, "This joker is high priest?  Coulda fooled me!"  Nothing about this man or how he acted could give anybody a clue that he was God's high priest apart from being told about it.  He was so far out of character as to be unrecognizable as a priest.

I'm wondering if this interpretation would be overlooked by many who feel that an apostle would have such "respect for authority" that he would never say such a thing in that way to a high priest.  But in light of the words Jesus had for the religious leaders, I would suspect his apostle wouldn't be too unchristlike if he followed suit.

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