Examples from Paul’s Trial and Defense
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY Respect for human authority is part of God’s mandate and a key aspect of the civil responsibilities of a Christian. As Apostles Peter [1 Peter 2:13–18] and Paul [Romans 13:1–7] explain, people in authority position; such as president or prime minister, king or queen, governor, clergy, teacher, supervisor, parents, or any person in a leadership position; have been assigned rights and responsibilities to preserve and propagate one or more aspects of natural order and to protect the good elements of society from the bad. Every authority has been established by God to serve one or more such purpose. Therefore, respect and honor for authority and for laws and customs that define or establish the authority is part of our responsibilities to society.
TWO-PART BIBLE STUDY This is a two-part study of Paul’s civil trials and defense after his return to Jerusalem from sojourn in Ephesus. The trials started in Jerusalem, continued in Caesarea, and eventually took him to Rome. During the trials, Paul demonstrated his respect for authority and invoked civil rights when necessary to support his defense. In Part 1 of the study, we look at his interactions with the authority and his accusers in Jerusalem. Part 2 discusses the trials in Caesarea and Paul’s transfer to Rome thereafter.
INVOCATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS At several points in the trial, Paul invoked his civil rights while respecting the authority and due process to influence the trial proceedings. In one remarkable example, his invocation of civil rights and respect for due process and the authority of Emperor Caesar triggered a chain of events that led to fulfilling God’s promise to him that he will proclaim the gospel in Rome as he did in Jerusalem. Going to Rome not only provided him an opportunity to extend his ministry there but also ended the trial that started in Jerusalem. Therefore, one can say that his respect for civil rights and responsibilities placed him in position to work in alliance with God.
Paul’s Arrest and Trial in Jerusalem
Paul returned to Jerusalem after approximately three years in Ephesus, went through customary purification rites, and went to the temple daily. Some Jews from Asia saw him at the temple and stirred up a mob against him. They accused him of teaching Jews to turn away from their custom and laws of Moses. The mob arrested him, dragged him out of the temple, and tried to kill him. However, a Roman commander took him from the mob but kept him in custody.
RESPECTABLE JEWISH CITIZEN Paul sought and obtained permission from the commander to speak to the mob. He made a case that he was Jewish and a citizen in good standing, entitled to protection under the law and treatment as a good citizen. He made his case as follows [Acts 22:1–21].
- He spoke to them in their language, Aramaic.
- He was Jewish, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in Jerusalem.
- Educated in Jewish law under renowned teacher Gamaliel.
- Strong and zealous defender of their law and customs, until his conversion to Christ.
However, the mob was not impressed. They instead became enraged and demanded he be handed back to them.
ROMAN CITIZEN BY BIRTH The commander ordered Paul to be flogged to force more information from him.
To defend himself against the commander’s order, Paul informed the soldiers he was a Roman citizen. Therefore, it was illegal to torture or punish him without first finding him guilty of a crime [Acts 22:23–29]. The commander was informed and he not only withdrew the flogging order but was concerned he violated Paul’s civil rights by putting him in chains.
Therefore, Paul won this round of trial by invoking his civil right as a Roman citizen. Also, by so doing he showed respect for the Roman law and the authority of the commander as its representative.
RESPECT FOR JEWISH CUSTOM During a subsequent appearance at the Sanhedrin (full assembly of Israeli elders) Paul showed respect for Jewish custom by withdrawing from a confrontation with Ananias once he realized Ananias was the high priest. He withdrew from the confrontation because of Jewish custom that accorded great respect to the high priest. Also, during the same appearance at the Sanhedrin, he told the Pharisees he shared their belief in resurrection and was on trial because of the belief.
A Concluding Session
Please join us next week in the concluding session of this study, where we discuss how Paul’s respect for constituted authority helped him win protection from the Roman authorities. Furthermore, his invocation of civil rights triggered a chain of events that resulted in fulfilling God’s promise that he (Paul) will proclaim the gospel in Rome as he had done in Jerusalem.