Lecture 32: Arrest, Trial and Imprisonment
Login to download lecture and curriculum
Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.
Lesson Thirty-two: Arrest, Trial, and Imprisonment
I. End of the Third Missionary Journey
II. Paul Takes a Vow
A. Rumor (Acts 21:21)
B. Remedy (Acts 21:22-23)
III. Paul Seized in the Temple (Acts 21:28-30)
IV. Rome to the Rescue (Acts 21:21-33)
V. Paul's Roman Citizenship (Acts 22:24-29)
A. Ways to Be a Citizen of Rome
1. Born with it
2. Buy it
3. Do a great act of service
4. Freed slave
B. Why did the tribune believe that Paul was a Roman citizen?
1. He said he was.
2. Scroll testifying to his citizenship
VI. Defense before the Jews
VII. The Plot against Paul (Acts 23:23-33)
VIII. Paul in Caesarea
A. Accusation (Acts 24:5-6)
B. Defense (Acts 24:11-13)
C. Admission (Acts 24:14)
IX. Paul in Prison
X. Before Festus and Agrippa
XI. Paul to be tried by Caesar (Acts 25:12, 26:32)
XII. End of Acts
Lecture: Romans: Arrest
We want to pick up with Paul on the end of the third missionary journey and let’s start with a short review. Paul began the missionary journey from Antioch, again walking all the way across the Turkish peninsula, and having his main time (some 3 years or so) in Ephesus. We looked at his correspondence to the church at Corinth (the 4 letters he wrote there – ½, 1, 1½, and 2 Corinthians). Also, as he comes later and visits the church, he writes the letter to the Romans from there. We have to estimate that Galatians is written somewhere in that time, because there’s a similarity in the material. He then revisits the churches, comes back, and crosses over to Troas. He does not stop again at Ephesus, but he stops at Miletus and has the Ephesian leaders come to meet him at Miletus. The reason for that is not clear – it may well be that if he stopped at Ephesus he would not get out of there again. So he did not want to delay, because he had several other things to do which we’ll look at. (One was to bring an offering, in other words to arrive in time for the feast days.) And then we have this ferry-hop in various ways to come back to Jerusalem, which is the end of every missionary journey.
We’ll pick it up here with Paul leaving, and to take notice of a few things. We notice that in the Corinthian letters and also in Romans, he speaks about the offering. We have Paul writing the letter to the Romans and leaving for Jerusalem. In the Book of Acts, Luke does not highlight this offering to nearly the extent that Paul does. But we do have hints of this in Acts 20, where we read that, as he set sail, hoping to get to Syria (Antioch), he takes with him (20:4) “Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.” So he brings with him a large group. (This fits very well if he’s bringing an offering because there’s the weight of the offering if it’s coinage [you don’t have travelers’ checks or anything like that].) Also, later on in Acts he makes reference to this in his defense. When he has been arrested he says that he came to give alms to the poor. That’s the only reference that we have.
But he carries on from Corinth to Cenchreae, he visits the north (Macedonia, where Philippi is), crosses over to Troas, and then he takes this ferry boat from Assos, to Mitylene, to Chios, to Samos, and to Miletus, where he meets with the Ephesian elders. He has some things to say to them. It’s kind of a parting, a farewell, and there’s sort of a sense of tragedy lurking here. He says that he doesn’t know what’s going to befall him (Acts 20:22) “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound by the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” So he has premonitions that something is not going to go well in Jerusalem. Later as he gets there [to Caesarea], two prophetesses (Philip’s daughters) advise him not to go – they tell him that he’ll be bound and imprisoned there. But Paul says that this is God’s will and he’s going. And Luke has prepared us for that, because when Paul was called to be a follower of Jesus Christ, Ananias was told that he would be God’s witness before kings and emperors (Acts 9:15). We haven’t come across that yet. And the only way that’s going to take place is through the imprisonment that awaits him there. Then we have a little more ferry-hopping from Miletus, to Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre, Ptolemais, Caesarea, and then Jerusalem. Again, every missionary journey ends at that point. And that brings us to the end of the third missionary journey.
In Jerusalem, Paul comes and brings his report, and there’s a lot of debate about the fact that he takes a vow in Jerusalem. Some have suggested that Paul would certainly never have taken a Jewish vow. But the background for this is, when he comes to give the report of what’s going on, the church in Jerusalem in chapter 21 are delighted by this. We read that after greeting them (21:19), “… he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when the heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law ….’” So there are also many Jews that are coming to know the Lord, and in v. 21 a problem has developed. They have heard that “… you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe their customs.” Now, there could be misunderstandings of what Paul said. Remember when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said that if you receive circumcision, you have fallen from grace. He’s speaking to the Gentiles about that, but it could’ve been misunderstood. Furthermore, in his own lifestyle, he lives according to 1 Corinthians 9:19, ff., very freely,
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings.”
So Paul’s style and freedom may have been misunderstood. And when he comes to Jerusalem, there are Jewish believers there who have heard that he’s been telling Jews not to keep the law any more. And they’re recommendation in 21:22, “What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also line in observance of the law.” So Paul decides to take this vow – he has no problems with it. Some have said that Paul would never take a Jewish vow, because he’s too free. If he’s really free, though, then he can take a Jewish vow – that’s the whole point. For Paul, none of these things are forbidden if treated properly, so why not take a Jewish vow? He lives as a Jew among the Jews, and so he takes this Jewish vow, and troubles occur as a result.
During the time that he’s taking this vow, he is in the temple, and a riot starts (v. 28), “’Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place. For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.” Well let’s look at some maps here. Here’s kind of an overview of a model of the temple. Just on the east is the Kidron Valley, with the Mt. of Olives just opposite the temple. On the temple complex itself, just around the temple proper, is a balustrade, or fence. In this fenced area, only Jews could go. Gentiles could enter anywhere else in the temple, but they could not enter into this part itself. It was forbidden. There was a sign there that said “No foreigner is to enter within the forecourt and the balustrade around the Sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death,” which caused most Gentiles to decide that they weren’t that interested in seeing what was beyond there anyhow. And Paul will be found in this side of the Temple, and they assume because he has come with certain Gentiles into the city, that he brought them and therefore profaned the Temple area.
Now let’s look at this in a little more of a diagrammatic form. Here we have the temple again. The Kidron Valley is on the east; the old city of Jerusalem is to the south; and the Hinnom Valley comes along the west side. This was the largest temple grounds (not the edifice itself, but the grounds) of the world in that day. It was massively re-built by Herod the Great, who was a remarkable builder. It could certainly have been one of the Seven Wonders of the World, except that the Seven Wonders of the World were written up several centuries before. There are walls around the perimeter, and colonnades. When Jesus entered the temple, it was probably in this area, because people in the colonnades would be selling the animals and taking tax money, and the like. The balustrade or fence which prohibited Gentiles from entering goes just next to the main temple edifice. The Court of the Gentiles included anywhere beyond this fence. The Fortress Antonia, the Roman garrison is located in the northwest of the complex. They had direct access to the temple. If there was ever to be a revolt against Rome, it was expected to begin in the heart of the nationalistic center of Judaism, which is the temple. So they had this fortress overlooking the area.
And Paul has entered the temple, and when he leaves the temple (the en-fenced area), they arrest him and a riot starts in this area of the Court of the Gentiles. “Outside the temple” means outside the fenced area, because the temple proper is within the fence. And this itself [the fenced area] was a huge area, that included a court for the women, and then a court for the men of Israel, and the area further inside was the temple proper. When it says that they had seen him “in the temple”, and accuse him of bringing Greeks “into the temple” who defiled that temple, that means inside this fenced area. When he’s outside the temple, he’s still on the temple grounds, but not in the fenced area or in the temple proper. It’s a massive area.
At this time, this riot begins to take place because they thought he had defiled the temple, one of the truly sacred places in the world. And we read in v. 30, “Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut.” That was the fenced area there, still in the temple grounds. And the Romans see this mob going on, and they can’t just stand by at this. And, “… as they [the people] were about to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.” This seems very polite, but in fact they know that the Romans may well end the riot by killing Paul themselves. “Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks [the Fortress of Antonia, at the northwest of the Temple area]. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd ….”
When he got to the barracks, Paul asked the tribune (21:37), “’May I say something to you?’ And he said, ‘Do you know Greek?’… Paul replied, ‘I am a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. Let me, I pray, speak to the people.’” And this [tribune] is an educated man, and allows him to do so. Paul makes his defense, and gives his testimony, and then leading up to v. 21, he says, that God showed him what would happen if he came there, and that this might happen – that God said to him (v. 21), “Depart, for I will send you to the Gentiles.” And when they hear that, the riot starts again. And the tribune grabs Paul and brings him back into the barracks, likely thinking something like “Why did they send me to this part of the world?”
As he enters the barracks, the tribune wants to have him questioned. And they had a unique way of doing that. What they first did was not to ask you questions, but to give you a beating, to put you in the proper mood to answer questions. So we read here (22:24-25), “The tribune commanded that he be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion [n.b., the tribune is the captain of the guard, the whole group; the centurion is the lieutenant of over 100 men or corresponding kind of things] ‘Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?’”
Paul knew it was unlawful. Somebody of the time named Cicero, a very famous Roman writer, wrote in one of his works, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime; to flog him an abomination; to slay him is an almost act of murder.” And therefore, when the centurion finds this out, he “…went to the tribune and said to him, ‘What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.’ So the tribune came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘I bought this citizenship for a large sum.’” In essence, he’s asking how Paul became a citizen, and there are several ways. You could buy it; you could do a great act of service for the empire and be awarded citizenship; if you had been enslaved as a people that had been defeated, and you were later liberated, that involves Roman citizenship; but another way was Paul’s way, and he replies (v. 28), “I was born a Roman citizen.” Now that doesn’t tell us how his father became a Roman citizen (Luke doesn’t seem interested in that, and Paul doesn’t comment on it). Verse 29, “So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.” In other words, if he was binding him, he’d goofed – he’d get in trouble if he’d bound a Roman citizen.
The question has come up over why the tribune would believe Paul’s statement that he’s a Roman citizen. Well, first of all, you don’t say that you’re a Roman citizen if you’re not. And the other thing is, there were apparently either small wooden diptychs or little scrolls that you would obtain from the place of your birth that would say that you were a Roman citizen – a kind of a passport. It may be the kind of thing that Paul would have brought with him on his missionary journeys. Whether he had it at that exact time with him, or whether it was in his hotel room somewhere, or something like that we don’t know. But it was the kind of thing that his demeanor, his intelligence, the fact that he said he came from a different city and could speak Greek well -- all of these things must also have contributed to the tribune’s believing this statement about his citizenship. And immediately they refrained from doing anything to him.
This places the tribune in a very difficult situation. What is he going to do? There’s a riot in the city over the man, and so the result is that he is brought before the council, the Sanhedrin. And Paul is brought under the protection of the tribune and the guard to the meeting place, and is asked to speak to the council. And so he starts speaking out of turn, and the high priest (the head of the Sanhedrin) orders him to be struck on the mouth for impropriety. Paul responds (v. 3), “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, ‘Would you revile God’s high priest?’” And then Paul says something – whether it’s sincere or sarcastic, it’s hard to be definitive on. But to me it looks like he’s being sincere: “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 own people.’” He has a respect for authority that, even when authority is wrong, is very different from most of our attitudes as Americans. But he has respect for civil authority.
The result of all of this is interesting, because what he does is to notice there are Pharisees and Sadducees that make up the Sanhedrin. He didn’t perceive this at the outset, but when he realized that there were these two groups, he words his defense in a way that will divide his enemies. He says that the real issue that’s at stake here is the issue of the resurrection. And that’s true – he’s not mis-telling anything, because if there is no such thing as the resurrection, then you can’t talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So he brings it in the larger overall picture, quite intentionally, and says that the basic issue that he’s being attacked on involves the issue of the resurrection of the dead. Well, immediately, the Sadducees are opposed by the Pharisees, because the Pharisees think to themselves, “No problem here”. What Paul does is to revive an animosity that’s 2 centuries old, between Pharisees and Sadducees. [n.b., Saduccees do not believe in the resurrection of the dead.] And what happens, is that all of the sudden they go at it with one another, and they leave Paul alone.
I had an interesting experience when I went through my doctoral dissertation at Princeton Theological Seminary. I made a statement, and there were about fifteen faculty for that dissertation. And the faculty all of the sudden started to go at it with each other. There were two sides of the argument, and they were going after it all the time. For me, it was a delight – they could leave me alone and argue among themselves. And finally the chairman said that this was an interesting question that they could deal with, but the real reason they were here was to discuss this dissertation, etc. And he brought them back to order in that way. In this instance (with Paul), there is no order; there’s chaos, and the tribune has to bring Paul out of the situation under guard once again, and realize that there’s even more of a problem. Now he can’t even have the Sanhedrin make some decision as to helping him out.
While Paul is under guard in the Fortress Antonia, a plot develops, and his nephew hears about it and tells Paul. Paul advises his nephew to tell the tribune about what he’s heard. The tribune hears that there is a plot against Paul, and this is what he does (23:23, ff.):
“He called two of the centurions and said ‘Get ready two hundred soldiers, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea [Caesarea is the port city – the center of the Roman government of that area. The Roman governor is located at Caesarea.] at the third hour of the night [late at night]. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride and bring him safely to Felix the governor.’ [And then he writes this letter – a typical letter of that time]
“‘Claudius Lysias, [from A] to his Excellency, the governor Felix [to B]: greetings. [A Christian letter tended to use the word ‘grace’; the Jewish greeting would be ‘peace’ or ‘shalom’.] This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. And desiring to know the charge for which they were accusing him, I brought him down to their council. I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they had against him.’”
So, Paul is led by 450 troops to Caesarea. With Roman attitudes toward Jews being what they were at the time, you might wonder why in the world the tribune would take such pains with Paul. The reason is that he’s not a Jew, as far as they’re concerned; he is a Roman citizen. Is it maybe because of things like this (although Paul wrote Romans before this incident) that he writes so strongly in Romans 13 about government being ordained of God, and that if you do what is right, government will not punish you, but will reward you; if you do evil they will punish you? Therefore, give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Eventually he is brought to Caesarea, and after five days (chapter 24), charges come down and Paul is further accused of crime, and this places the Roman Governor in somewhat of a bind. He can’t just take a Roman citizen and throw him to the wolves. He has to listen to Paul’s defense, which is quite interesting and well done. The charges are in 24:5-8, “We have found this man a pestilence, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about all of which we accuse him.” And so now the governor asks Paul to speak, and Paul makes a very well-prepared defense (v. 11-12), “It is more than 12 days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city.” In other words, they never heard me speaking in the city. If I’m an agitator, why did they never find me speaking or stirring up anybody in any way? The fact is I’ve been silent all the time there. And they can’t prove anything that they’re charging me with. Now on the other hand (v. 14), “I admit, according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead.”
Do you remember when Paul was brought before Gallio in Corinth (Acts 18:12)? Gallio makes the decision that this is an intra-Jewish squabble – an issue among themselves. And Paul brings that up. I’m a Jew; this is a Jewish issue. I’m dealing with what our fathers promised in the Scriptures (again bringing this tie that this is not a new religion; this is a Jewish fulfillment that I preach). Continuing with his defense, v. 17 has the only clear reference to the offering in the Book of Acts, which is so prominent in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans (vv. 17-21):
“Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.” That’s why I came. I came to bring to the poor. “As I was doing this they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia – they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’”
So that he talks about The Way [i.e., the name they used for Christianity in its early days] being the fulfillment of Jewish hopes, and that his accusers are absent.
If Paul were not a Roman citizen, I’m sure that the governor would have thrown him to the wolves. He’s not going to worry about this kind of ‘nonsense’. He might feel that one less Jew in the area would make them all better off anyhow, or something like that. But he’s not – he happens to be a Roman citizen. So, what Felix does is nothing. He procrastinates. He says “I’m not going to be here forever; my term is up in two years. I’ll be out, and I’ll leave to the next governor this problem.”
A new governor does come, Festus, and there’s still a seething animosity towards Paul of some leaders in Jerusalem. They immediately come down and say that there is a man there who needs to be tried in Jerusalem because that’s where his crime was committed. What they don’t say is that they have plotted against him, and they plan for him to be assassinated on the way. Paul, however, is aware of the plot, and he plays his trump card. He says (25:8, 11),
“Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense. But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, ‘Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?’ But Paul said, ‘I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.’”
Every Roman had the right that his case would be heard by the Emperor, and ultimately the Emperor himself would pass judgment. That doesn’t mean that the Emperor would personally hear it necessarily, but one of his representatives would hear the case, bring a recommendation to the Emperor, and when the person was brought before the Emperor he would know very quickly what the issue was, and pass judgment. Verse 12, “Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, ‘To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you will go.”
And Luke goes out of his way to tell us about when Agrippa, a king, comes to hear Paul’s case. And Festus says “I have to send this guy to Rome”, and the ending verse of chapter 25 (v. 27), “It seems unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.” He’s appealed to Caesar; there’s a riot going on here; what am I going to write to the Emperor? And so Paul is permitted to speak; he gives his testimony (this is the third account of his testimony); and after it’s all over, Festus says to him (26:24), “You’re out of your mind!” But Paul responds that he’s speaking the truth. And then Agrippa responds at the end of chapter 26 to Festus (v. 32), “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Agrippa sees nothing wrong with his crazy beliefs, etc. He could have let him go, but since he’s appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar he must go.
Luke’s emphasis is to point out that the Roman authorities (the governor and King Agrippa) see the innocence of Paul. If you’ve followed Luke, it’s very important to note that Jesus’ charges are all found as not worthy of having done any crime, and here he does the same with Paul and Peter and others. Luke has an apologetic to emphasize the innocence of the Christians.
And so Paul is going to be tried by Caesar, and then you have this sea voyage that goes from Caesarea to Sidon, Cyprus, Myra, etc., and you have here very much the kind of account that looks historical. As they go, you read 27:1-3,
“And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to….”
That looks very historical. I can’t imagine this is fiction. It just looks like the kind of thing that historical accounts are made of. It looks very historical that way. You have a fantastic account of a voyage, and in fact Acts 27 is probably the best account of sailing that we have in the first century. You see the trouble of how they tried to rescue the ship when it’s beginning to break up (they lower the cables over the side to give extra strength to the planking); they pour oil to try to calm the sea so the sailors that are trying to leave can get into the spare boat and go; etc. It’s a fascinating account (but not that important theologically).
Paul is left in the Book of Acts, in the last verses (28:30-31), “And he lived there [in Rome] two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and unhindered.” He’s under house arrest, but there’s freedom to receive visitors. He’s not in an inner prison, or anything like that. And, interestingly, we have this little comment about Paul, living in Rome at his own expense. He must have had some access to money – some funding also from the churches, although he tended not to accept money, except from the church in Philippi.
So that then brings us to the end of the Book of Acts as such, and, except for Paul’s letters, we don’t know anything more about what happens at the end of this missionary journey. We have after this what we call the prison epistles that will be coming up in later lectures.
If you are enjoying this lecture, would you consider making a donation so others can learn from it as well?
BiblicalTraining is a non-profit and relies on its users for support.