“And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to 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?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” (Acts 23:1–5)
Immediately following the Apostle Paul’s opening remarks to the Sanhedrin about having a clear conscience before God for ministering the Gentiles, Ananias, the high priest, ordered those who stood near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Luke does not comment as to why Ananias ordered this done. Perhaps he thought Paul’s remarks to be inappropriate or disrespectful.
Ananias the high priest was one of Israel’s cruelest and most corrupt high priests. His pro-Roman policies alienated him from the Jewish people, who murdered him at the outset of the revolt against Rome (A.D. 66). By ordering Paul struck, Ananias was committing an illegal act during the court proceedings. The verb translated “strike” is used of the mob’s beating of Paul (Acts 21:32) and the Roman soldiers’ beating of Jesus (Matthew 27:30). It was no mere slap on the face, but a continuing and vicious series of blows.
Following this incident, Paul responded by saying, “God is going to 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?” The tone of Paul’s comment was one of righteous anger. The phrase “whitewashed wall” is a Jewish figure of speech meaning a hypocrite or an imposter. Paul was saying that Ananias was a religious hypocrite and had no business judging Paul regarding the question of his obedience to God’s Word because as the high priest Ananias violated that very Word of God by ordering Paul beaten.
Paul’s response to Ananias solicited a response by those who stood by and were watching the scene unfold. They said, ““Would you revile God’s high priest?”
Apparently one’s position, political or religious, permitted an individual to violate the very law they were sworn to uphold. Regardless, Paul immediately apologized and said, ““I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” Paul’s biblical reference was Exodus 22:28.
Dr. John MacArthur writes, “Some believe this to be another manifestation of Paul’s eye problems (cf. Gal. 4:15); or that Paul was so angry that he forgot to whom he was speaking; or that he was being sarcastic, since Ananias was not acting like a high priest should. The simplest explanation is to take Paul’s words at face value. He had been gone from Jerusalem for many years and would not likely have recognized Ananias by sight. That this was an informal gathering of the Sanhedrin (see note on Acts 22:30) would have meant the high priest would not have been wearing his official garments.”
God’s Word requires that believers respect their leaders: political, religious, economic and family. This is to be done even when the leader is not behaving respectably. The principle was illustrated by David who honored the LORD’s anointed, King Saul, even though Saul sought to kill David (I Samuel 24:3-15). The principle is also taught by the Apostle Paul (Romans 13:1-7; I Timothy 2:1-4) and the Apostle Peter (I Peter 2:13-17).
Have a blessed day.
Soli deo Gloria!