What does Acts 23:29 mean?Paul has been in Jerusalem for about a week. He's spent much of the previous three years in Ephesus, in southwest modern-day Turkey, an area the Bible refers to as "Asia." Lysias is a young Roman military officer charged with keeping the peace in Jerusalem. His barracks in the Antonia Fortress are along the northern wall of the temple mount. When men from the Asian province started beating Paul just outside the temple, Lysias was able to dispatch his troops before the crowd could kill Paul (Acts 21:30–33).
Lysias spent the next three days trying to figure out why Paul enraged the crowd so much. He has good reason to be confused:
- When Paul was in Ephesus, he started in the synagogue, as usual. Also "as usual," he was driven out by those who refused to accept his argument about Jesus and the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8–10).
- According to Luke's account in the book of Acts, Paul's only real antagonists in Ephesus were Gentile craftsmen who made idols. The more people came to Christ, the less money the silversmiths made (Acts 19:23–27). Paul did mention "trials" and "the plots of the Jews" when he later visited with the elders of church in Ephesus, but he didn't elaborate (Acts 20:19). He also mentioned to the church in Corinth "the affliction we experienced in Asia," saying, "we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself" (2 Corinthians 1:8–9), but he didn't say what these afflictions were, who afflicted him, or what disagreement caused them.
- When Paul returned to Jerusalem, he learned from James about circulating rumors. These implied that Paul taught Jews not to circumcise their sons (Acts 21:20–21). Paul never said this, and it's unclear who claimed he did. It is similar to an argument Paul and the church in Syrian Antioch had with legalistic Jewish Christians about Gentile parents (Acts 15:1–5).
- Paul agreed to refute these rumors by performing a Jewish ritual. When he entered the temple to do so, however, Jews from Asia accused him of bringing a Gentile with him. Paul had traveled with Gentiles and had taken a Gentile around the city, but he didn't bring him to the temple (Acts 20:4; 21:23–24, 27–29).
- Seeking to find out why the Jews from Asia were beating Paul, Lysias allowed Paul to speak to the crowd. They listened while Paul gave his testimony, and didn't erupt until he mentioned that God sent him to the Gentiles (Acts 22:3–22). It's unclear if they grew jealous of their God or if the mention of Gentiles reminded them of the Gentile they thought Paul brought into the temple.
- Lysias also took Paul before the Sanhedrin. Paul maintains his innocence, a guard slaps him, Paul insults the person who ordered the guard, another person tells Paul he just insulted the high priest, Paul gets sarcastic with the high priest, and then Paul starts a fight between the Pharisees and Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:1–10).
As far as the Romans were concerned, Christianity fell under the protective umbrella of Judaism and did so until around AD 150. Romans saw Jews as strange atheists because they had no images of their God. Lysias is probably thinking of either the Gentile in the temple or the argument about the resurrection. It was against Roman law to defile a religious structure, but Romans wouldn't necessarily consider allowing a non-Jew into the temple as a breach of that law. Romans, like Greeks, didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead. But like the philosophers in the Areopagus, the Romans would consider the belief further evidence of the Jews' unsophistication, not something punishable (Acts 17:30–32). Neither charge would warrant death or imprisonment.