23:1-11 A division between the Sadducee and Pharisee parties in the Sanhedrin
Paul has now been brought by the Roman tribune (colonel in charge of the garrison in the Antonia Fortress) into a gathering of the Jewish parliament. When he claimed to have lived his life with a clear conscience, the High Priest had him struck on the mouth. Paul responded by denying that Caiphas was the properly appointed High Priest. Knowing that the high priest was from the Sadducee party, he then claimed to be a Pharisee, which divided the sanhedrin and threw it into confusion. And the Colonel immediately ordered Paul to be taken out by force and again brought into the barracks. In this terrible situation the Lord graciously came and stood by Paul during the night.
23:1 We are surprised at Paul's first words to the sanhedrin (national assembly of representative priests, theologians, senior civil servants, and business people of the city). He claimed that his conscience was clear. Even when he had been beating up Christians and putting them in prison, he had felt this was the right thing to do. Which means that a person can be sincere with a wrongly set conscience.
23:2-3 The suggestion that Paul's conscience was now set right (to plant Gentile congregations) infuriated the presiding High Priest Ananias (appointed by the Romans c. AD 48 and he shouted "hit that man across the mouth" And Paul, equally indignant, called him a cracked wall that had been whitewashed (a metaphor used by Jesus of Pharisees in Matthew 23:27). Paul pointed out that Ananias was meant to be the presiding judge, but he was intervening totally against the laws of procedure.
23:4-5 When those near him asked how he dared to insult the High Priest, he pointed out that he did not recognize his authority. Annas was the one elected by the Jewish people to that office, but the Romans had deposed him (AD 15) and put in Caiaphas (4:6, John 18:24) as their puppet to run the temple. Annas was an old man, but still highly respected by the Jewish people. But now the Romans had appointed Ananias for that function.
23:6 The translation should not be "When Paul noticed". Paul knew most of the members of the Sanhedrin personally, and understood their long standing division into two parties.. The Greek verb gnous here simply means "Paul knew." Some theologians have faulted him for hypocrisy. How could he claim to be both a Pharisee and a Christian? The point was that he had always had the Pharisee belief in the resurrection. What had changed was that the resurrection of the Messiah had now happened. The Pharisees also took the Old Testament very seriously, and discussed how it should be interpreted. What Paul had learned from Jesus was that Jewish laws should be interpreted in the light of the love of God (see Matthew 5:17, 13:52). But theologically he was still a Pharisee as opposed to a Sadducee.
23:7-8 The result of Paul's declaration that he was on the Pharisee side of theological doctrine turned the delegates' attention from him to the difference between them. Luke helpfully explains in a note that the Sadducees denied any kind of resurrection, or angelic intervention, or the work of the Holy Spirit. And he had made clear that Paul and the early Christians lived by faith in these basic facts of faith.
23:9-10 In the row that ensued the Pharisee members of the council took Paul's side. They even admitted that he might have received his message by divine intervention. Romans did not get involved in this kind of local religious quarrel, and the Tribune quickly had Paul hustled back into the barracks.
23:11 Paul was obviously in great danger, and faced a very uncertain future. So the Messiah personally intervened to encourage him (For a note on others who saw the Son of God, see 18:9)
The Lord's mention of Rome would assure Paul that he would be preserved from death. It also may have encouraged him to appeal to Caesar (25:11).
23:12-35 Paul escorted by a detachment of Roman soldiers to Caesarea
23:12-15 Paul's enemies had immediately conspired to assassinate him, and not eat or drink till they had achieved their purpose. The plan was to ask for Paul to be brought again to the council on the pretext of a further examination, and 40 armed men (23:21) were ready to kill him there.
23:16-22 Paul's nephew heard about this, and managed to go into the barracks to see Paul. On hearing of his danger, Paul got one of the centurions to take the young man to the Commandant, and he was able to report the assassination plan.
23:23-24 At any price the Tribune (Colonel) did not want the Roman Emperor to hear of a disturbance in the city, especially involving the murder of a Roman citizen. So he called two of the army garrison captains under him, and told them to get Paul out of the city under the cover of night. They were to muster a huge force of four hundred footsoldiers and seventy cavalry. We can imagine Paul's awed astonishment when he was suddenly released , given a horse to ride, and taken out of the city protected by half a regiment as a VIP (very important person). As he rode all night he must have prayed "Thank you, Lord, for stepping in to provide these Roman soldiers to protect me."
23:25-30 To cover himself and impress Felix the Roman governor in Caesarea, the Tribune wrote a letter explaining that he had heard a Roman citizen was in danger, and he managed to rescue him (a half truth with a very good spin on it). He said he had Paul brought to the Jewish parliament to find out what had upset them. But he discovered it was just a question of religious law, and Paul did not seem to deserve a death sentence or even imprisonment. So he was sending him for the governor to hear his accusers in person.
23:31-32 Traveling all night in a forced march of 40 miles the footsoldiers (a hundred on each side of him) accompanied Paul to Antipatris (near the present location of the Lod airport). After a brief rest, one of the centurions took the four hundred footsoldiers back to Jerusalem, where the garrison had been left badly under strength. The seventy horsemen went on with Paul riding his horse into Caesarea where they arrived the next day.
23:33 The governor read the letter from the Tribune, assured himself that Paul was a Roman citizen from Tarsus in the Province of Cilicia, and told him he would hear the case when his accusers came down from Jerusalem. Paul was lodged for his own protection (if the assassins arrived to kill him) in the praetorion (Latin praetorium, the barracks of the Governor's personal bodyguard). Since there was no case against him, he was not a prisoner; only in protective custody.