This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 22:1-30. These verses record Paul’s speech to a hostile crowd in Jerusalem.
Paul addresses a hostile crowd in Jerusalem
1 Paul Tells Crowd “I Persecuted the Way!"
¶ "Paul said, “Brethren and fathers, please hear my defense which I now make to you.” When they heard Paul speak to them in the Hebrew tongue, they became more quiet. Here is what Paul said to them: “I am a true Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up here in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel. I was educated according to the strict manner of the law of the fathers. I was zealous toward God, as you all are this day. I persecuted this way of Jesus to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. To this the high priest and all the council of the elders can testify. I received letters from them to the brethren, and went to Damascus to find followers there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem in order to have them punished.”"(Acts 22:1-6).
The Hebrew Tongue. Paul had been set upon by the Jews who saw him in the temple. He was rescued by Roman soldiers who carried him upstairs to the barracks. However he requested the commander to let him speak to the crowd from the safety of the stairs, and permission was granted. Paul chose to speak in Hebrew rather than in Greek. This immediately hushed the crowd because they realized that Paul was a 'Hebrew of Hebrews' (Philippians 3:5). A Jew who could speak pure Hebrew had higher status among Jews who lived in Jerusalem. Jews from foreign places who could not speak Hebrew did not command as much respect.
Paul’s credentials. Paul let the crowd know his origins, and his background in the Jewish religion. On all counts he is a man of very high standing; and it did no harm to put that in the crowd’s face. Paul also describes how he himself had been every bit as anti-christian as anyone in that crowd.
Gamaliel. This master of Paul’s education is possibly the same eminent Gamaliel who spoke in the Sanhedrin regarding its treatment of the apostles (Acts 5:34).
Zealous toward God. Paul had never lacked zeal; however his zeal had been "a zeal of God but not in accordance with knowledge"(Romans 10:2). Zeal for God, if fired by ignorance and prejudice, can be very dangerous.
2 Paul describes his conversion
¶ "Paul continued, “On my journey, as I neared Damascus about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. I fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.' Those who were with me saw the light and were afraid; but they did not hear the voice of him who spoke to me. And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Arise, and go into Damascus; there you will be told everything appointed for you to do.' I was made blind by the glory of that light, and my companions had to lead me by the hand. Thus I came into Damascus.”"(Acts 22:7-11).
Three accounts. There are three accounts of Paul’s experience as he came near Damascus (Acts 9:3ff,Acts 22:6ff,Acts 26:13ff).
About noon... a great light. This light was brighter than the strong midday sun (Acts 26:13).
Did not hear the voice. Paul says that his travelling companions did not hear the voice of Jesus who spoke to him (Acts 22:19), whereas Luke says they heard the sound (Acts 9:7). Paul also says that he and his companions all fell to the ground (Acts 26:14). whereas Luke says that Saul fell to the ground and his companions stood speechless (Acts 9:7). This is one of those famous “contradictions” that some people think they have discovered in the Bible. However Luke is hardly likely to write an account that contradicts Paul’s own accounts, and then quote those accounts in the same document! It is easy to reconcile these accounts: Saul and his companions all fell to the ground when the light shone, but his companions stood up before Saul did. Saul heard what Jesus said, but his companions heard only the sound, but did not hear in the sense of catching what was said.
What shall I do, Lord? Saul first asked, “Who are you, Lord?” Perhaps Saul did not know who was speaking to him. More likely, he thought it was Jesus but sought confirmation. When Jesus confirmed that he himself was speaking, Saul then asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” Minutes earlier Saul had been approaching Damascus ready to oppose the followers of Jesus. Saul had thought Jesus to be a dead man. Suddenly Saul found himself speaking to Jesus who was obviously not dead. Saul had to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. For most people, coming to an acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord is a process. For Saul it was an epiphany.
¶ "Paul continued, “I was visited by a man named Ananias. He is a devout man according to the law with a good reputation among all the Jews living in Damascus. Ananias came and stood before me. He said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' At that moment I looked up and could see him. He said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One, and hear words from his mouth. For to all people you shall be his witness and tell what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.' ”"(Acts 22:12-16).
Ananias. Paul’s story could be laughed off as a touch of the sun, a moment of insanity in which his mind played tricks. However Paul points out that not only were his travelling companions witnesses to the light, but another man was, independently, quite as involved in the story as Paul. This man, Ananias, was a devout man of good reputation whose story could not be reasonably doubted. Not only did the Lord entrust Saul’s conversion to Ananias, but he also made Ananias able to corroborate Paul’s story.
Saul’s commission. Saul was given his commission to be a witness of the things he had seen. Primarily this meant that he had seen the risen Christ and he was to devote his life to preaching Christ raised from the dead and glorified. Because he was obedient to this commission, Paul found himself on many occasions a prisoner on trial.
Baptism. Saul was commanded to immediately be baptized in the name of the Lord whom Saul now believed and confessed to be Jesus. This baptism came with the promise of an amazing result, which Ananias expresses simply as "wash away your sins"(Acts 22:16). This compares with Peter’s phrase, "the forgiveness of your sins"(Acts 2:38). Paul could have all his terrible acts of persecution, all his raging opposition to Jesus, completely forgiven, as soon as he submitted himself to baptism. Then he could set about preaching, instead of persecuting, the way of Jesus.
Wash away. We should understand that Ananias wasn't preaching “water salvation” to Saul. Whilst baptism is required for one’s cleansing from sin, baptism itself does not cleanse. Rather, in baptism, it is the blood of Jesus shed as a sacrifice for sin, that is the means of forgiveness. We know this because Jesus spoke of his blood as "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins"(Matthew 26:28). Whilst baptism may be seen as "the washing of water"(Ephesians 5:26), this is understood to be a symbol of the forgiveness of sins. Water can only wash dirt from the body. Water cannot wash sin from the soul. Peter says that baptism "saves us not by washing dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience"(1Peter 3:21). Baptism is the symbol, not the power. The power is in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which baptism symbolizes (see Romans 6).
A command to be obeyed. We cannot reject baptism on the grounds that “it is only a symbol”. We must also see it as a commandment of the Lord. Ananias commanded Saul to be baptized. Had Saul rejected baptism, he would have added that rejection to all his other crimes against Jesus, and he would not have had any of his sins washed away. Nobody can benefit from what baptism symbolizes if they refuse to participate in the symbol itself. Why not? Because such refusal is outright disobedience to the clear commandment of God. Can you imagine Saul saying to Ananias, “Thank you, but if you don't mind I'll just have the washing away of my sins without being baptized”? Of course Saul would not have said any such thing! Yet this is effectively what a great many converts to Christ do say, and it is wrong. You can have a meat pie without tomato sauce; but you cannot have forgiveness of sins without baptism. You cannot treat baptism as a non-essential option. You must treat it as a commandment that must be obeyed without delay —following the example of Ananias and Saul.
¶ "Paul added, “When I returned to Jerusalem, while I was praying in the temple, I fell into in a trance. I saw Jesus who was saying to me, 'Make haste, and get yourself quickly out of Jerusalem; for they will not receive your testimony about me.' And I said, 'Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you; and when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I was also standing by; and consenting to his death; and I minded the clothes for those who slew him.' And he said to me, 'Go now, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' ”"(Acts 22:17-21).
Returned to Jerusalem. Saul showed great courage in going back to Jerusalem. He was expected to bring back prisoners to be punished and killed. Instead he brought back the very gospel that he'd been zealous to eradicate. The Jews weren't about to tolerate this and Saul’s life was in grave danger. Jesus appeared to Saul and warned him of these facts.
Lord they know. Saul seemed to think that knowledge of his former zeal as a persecutor should lead to acceptance of his new zeal as a preacher. Certainly reasonable people would have seen things in that light. But the Jewish enemies of Jesus were not reasonable people, but blind with prejudice. So Jesus told Paul he had to go far away from Jerusalem, so that he could preach where the threat was not so strong.
3 Paul Almost Flogged by the Romans
¶ "The Sanhedrin had been listening to Paul up to that statement. But then they began shouting, 'Away with such a fellow from the earth: for he has no right to live!' While they shouted, they shed their clothes, and tossed dust into the air. The Roman commander had Paul brought into the barracks, ordering that he be examined by scourging, hoping to discover why there was such an outcry against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, 'Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?' When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, 'Mind what you are doing, for this man is a Roman.' Then the commander came, and said to Paul, 'Tell me, are you a Roman?' Paul said, 'Yes I am.' The commander replied, 'With a great sum obtained I this freedom.' And Paul replied, 'But I was free born.' "(Acts 22:22-28).
They began shouting. The prejudice and hatred, which Saul had encountered after his conversion, was still rife all these years later. Another disgusting exhibition of it ensued.
Lawful to flog a Roman? Lysias the Roman commander saw the need to quell the riot quickly before it worsened, but he needed urgently to know what the fuss was all about, and who better to inform him than Paul. Unwisely, Lysias chose torture as a crude but swift method of getting the information out of Paul. However Paul had a surprise for the Lysias, who did not know that Paul was a Roman citizen of high standing. It was illegal to flog an uncondemned Roman citizen. Even binding him with thongs in preparation for flogging was an illegal act for which the punishment was unthinkable. Paul was no longer at their mercy; they were at his. How quickly a few words can turn everything upside down!
¶ "Those who had been about to interrogate Paul immediately withdrew, and the commander was afraid when he realised that he'd bound a Roman. The next day, the commander wanted to know why the Jews were accusing Paul. So he released Paul and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to assemble. The commander brought Paul down, and set him before them."(Acts 22:29-30).
Ordered the Sanhedrin to assemble. The Roman commander had got himself into a serious predicament, and still had not discovered what the unrest was about. So he made a second attempt to find out. On this attempt, the commander acted in a considered manner and ordered a hearing. He could not use a Roman court, lest his compromised position be discovered. So he ordered the Jewish Sanhedrin to convene and examine Paul. He would attend to guard the prisoner, and thus learn what the Jews had against Paul.