Paul Talks with the Roman Commander
As Paul was about to be taken inside, he said to the commander, “May I have a word with you?” “Do you know Greek?” the commander asked, surprised. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who led a rebellion some time ago and took 4,000 members of the Assassins out into the desert?” “No,” Paul replied, “I am a Jew and a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia, which is an important city. Please, let me talk to these people.” The commander agreed, so Paul stood on the stairs and motioned to the people to be quiet. Soon a deep silence enveloped the crowd, and he addressed them in their own language, Aramaic.Acts 21:37-40
What an interesting little side eddy! This tiny little segment of four verses appears to be just a little blip on the storyline; but is it? It is filled with some very interesting elements. Let me focus on one of them at this point by taking you back to Gems 1700 – The Outcome of Paul NOT Claiming Roman Citizenship Immediately. (Acts 16:35-40).
But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!” (Acts 16:37)
On that occasion Paul waited until after the event to tell the authorities he was a Roman Citizen. On this occasion he played the citizenship card early. But notice the subtle difference. And what makes this important in the flow of what Luke is telling us in this account of the action in Jerusalem? Let me clip from what I wrote in Gems 1700 and then I will also link the full Gems I wrote back then to this one so you can read it all again if you wish. Yes there are some important element in it for us to consider this time around .
Clipped from Bible Gems 1700
Who actually says “Go in peace”? Was it the Roman officials or was it something the jailer himself added?
Luke tells us Paul and Silas heard the statement from the Jailer: “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.” But I suspect the jailer was only repeating what the strategists (my deliberate switch of words) had said to the jailer. The point of all this is that the authorities were trying to hush it up from the beginning.
Note Paul’s response. Pointed and unyielding: Roman officials have had us beaten publicly without a trial and have thrown us in jail, even though we’re Roman citizens. Now are they going to throw us out secretly? There’s no way they’re going to get away with that! Have them escort us out!”
Now Paul announces his and Silas’ Roman citizenship. Paul knew the privileges of a Roman citizen, and at proper times, when the interests of justice and religion required it, he did not hesitate to assert them. In all this, he understood and accorded with the Roman laws. He declares that two of his fundamental rights have been violated by what the authorities did to him and Silas the previous day.
“Now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!”
(1) Because they had been illegally imprisoned, and the injustice of the magistrates should be acknowledged.
(2) Because the Roman laws had been violated, and the majesty of Rome insulted – honour should be done to Roman law.
(3) Because injustice had been done to Paul and Silas, and they had a right to demand just treatment and protection.
(4) Because such a public act on the part of the magistrates would strengthen the young converts, and show all citizens Roman or not that the apostles were not guilty of a violation of the laws.
(5) Because it would tend to the honour Christ-followers and lead to the spread of the Gospel. It would be a public acknowledgement of their innocence, and demonstrate their protection under Roman law as religious teachers.
Common Roman law stated “Many who are accused of evil may be absolved, when the cause is heard; but unheard, no man can be condemned.” Every principle of the law of nature and the law of nations was violated in the treatment of Paul and Silas at the hands of the magistrates of Philippi. So Paul demands that these same magistrates come personally to release them publicly.
Why didn’t Paul and Silas claim their Roman citizenship at the beginning and not after they were beaten?
Cicero and Quintilian tell of a Roman citizen who cried out that he was a citizen during a scourging, thereby humiliating his oppressors, who had not properly recognized his high status. By waiting until after the beating to inform the authorities that they were citizens, Paul placed the magistrates themselves in an awkward legal position: now the magistrates, not Paul and Silas , are forced to negotiate. Reports of what the magistrates had done could have disqualified them from office and even deprived Philippi of its status as a Roman colony. This strategy would have helped secure the future safety of the new believers in Philippi and Macedonia as a whole. A bold and courageous step on Paul and Silas part.
I am sure you will find the obvious important detail in these accounts if you look hard enough. Would you make a good lawyer or detective? In the example in Philippi Paul delayed stating he was a Roman citizen until after the imprisonment. In this case Paul states the fact he was a citizen of Tarsus earlier in the process after the Roman Garrison Commander is taking him into the Roman fort to investigate the matter. But notice the subtlety of it all. Look carefully at the text and learn to ask the right questions to uncover the important information. You are only as smart as the questions you ask.
As I indicated above, this portion is very important. How did I come to that conclusion? Well as a hint look at the number of times citizenship is mentioned in the passage. Ah but what passage? The important parts lie beyond this short segment. Go back to the large chunk of text I gave you in the wider context of Gems 1808.
Let me help you by giving you the clues that maybe you haven’t noticed yet. It is a case of noticing the important detail Luke has given us.
“No,” Paul replied, “I am a Jew and a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia, which is an important city. Please, let me talk to these people.”Act 21:39
When they tied Paul down to lash him, Paul said to the officer standing there, “Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been tried?”
When the officer heard this, he went to the commander and asked, “What are you doing? This man is a Roman citizen!”
So the commander went over and asked Paul, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I certainly am,” Paul replied.
“I am, too,” the commander muttered, “and it cost me plenty!” Paul answered, “But I am a citizen by birth!”
The soldiers who were about to interrogate Paul quickly withdrew when they heard he was a Roman citizen, and the commander was frightened because he had ordered him bound and whipped.Acts 22:25-29
“This man was seized by some Jews, and they were about to kill him when I arrived with the troops. When I learned that he was a Roman citizen, I removed him to safety.Act 23:27
Citizen is mentioned seven times in the wider passage. Note to self: the word citizen is important to Luke’s account.
I will leave you to ponder this before we return to the passage in the next Gem..
The missed opportunities of the past are nothing compared to the fresh opportunities in the present.Joyce Meyer
Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have laboured hard for.Socrates
But first pay careful attention to what the Bible text is telling you in the first instance. Learn to hone your skills as an investigator.Ian Vail
Great preaching is always based on a thorough examination of the text of the Bible in order to share it the way the author would have.Ian Vail
Great preaching simplifies the complicated; it doesn’t complicate the simple.Ian Vail