Acts 23:14

ESV They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul.
NIV They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, 'We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul.
NASB They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, 'We have put ourselves under an oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul.
CSB These men went to the chief priests and elders and said, "We have bound ourselves under a solemn curse that we won't eat anything until we have killed Paul.
NLT They went to the leading priests and elders and told them, 'We have bound ourselves with an oath to eat nothing until we have killed Paul.
KJV And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.

What does Acts 23:14 mean?

The Holy Spirit has told Paul that if he goes to Jerusalem he will be arrested (Acts 20:22–23). Jesus has told Paul that he will go to Rome (Acts 23:11). Neither of them told Paul a murder plot would be involved.

Shortly after Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he learned that unknown persons were spreading rumors that he taught Jews they didn't have to follow the Mosaic law (Acts 21:20–21). About a week later, Jews from the province of Asia in southwest modern-day Turkey falsely accused him of bringing a Gentile into the temple. The Roman tribune arrested Paul. This was not for desecrating a religious structure—a capital offense in both the Jewish and Roman law—but because the crowd at the temple was going to kill him (Acts 21:27–36). The next day, Paul insulted the high priest and started a fight between the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 23:1–10).

So, there are a lot of people in Jerusalem who want Paul dead. Forty Jews have made an oath to see it done (Acts 23:12–13). Their wording is probably along the lines of Old Testament oaths (Ruth 1:17; 1 Samuel 3:17; 14:44; 1 Kings 19:2)—"May God do to me and more also if Paul is not dead before I eat or drink." The men are identified as "Jews," which in such contexts usually means Jewish religious leaders. But they go to the Sanhedrin for help; they may be junior members of leadership, like Paul once was, or they may be Paul's accusers from Asia.

"Elder" is from the Greek root word presbuteros from which we get "presbyter." In the church, elders are highly qualified men who teach, lead, and set the example for the congregation (1 Timothy 3:1–7). In Jewish life, they were often well-respected businessmen who judged disputes among the people in their cities. Moses further developed the position of elder on the advice of his father-in-law (Exodus 18:13–26). Unlike elder, "chief priest" is not a biblical role. Before the birth of Jesus, the position of priest became highly politicized; some even bought the position from Gentile rulers. A "chief" priest is someone who has a significant amount of political power, often because of family ties.

The conspirators ask the elders and chief priests to tell the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, to help them by requesting Paul's presence. When the tribune escorts Paul to the Sanhedrin, the assassins will have their opportunity. They don't know Paul's nephew is listening. He tells Paul and the tribune of their plot, and the tribune saves Paul by sending him to the governor in Caesarea Maritima (Acts 23:15–24).
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