Acts 23:5

ESV 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.’”
NIV Paul replied, 'Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.''
NASB And Paul said, 'I was not aware, brothers, that he is high priest; for it is written: ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.’?'
CSB "I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest," replied Paul. "For it is written, You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people."
NLT I’m sorry, brothers. I didn’t realize he was the high priest,' Paul replied, 'for the Scriptures say, ‘You must not speak evil of any of your rulers.’ '
KJV Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

What does Acts 23:5 mean?

Paul has just learned that he disrespected the high priest. Paul had told the Sanhedrin his conscience is clear. The high priest, knowing Paul had been a devout Jew but now follows Jesus, ordered him struck. Paul responded by comparing him to a whitewashed wall: clean on the inside and rotten on the inside. Those standing closest to Paul tell him he's talking to the high priest (Acts 23:1–4). Paul quotes Exodus 22:28: "You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people."

Scholars debate as to what Paul knew and when. Some think he had been away from Jerusalem for so long he didn't know who was serving as high priest. Others think he suffered a permanent vision disruption at his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–18). Still others think he knew exactly what he was doing and is responding sarcastically.

If Paul doesn't know Ananias is high priest, his comment here may be sincere, but even then, it's highly likely Paul is being sarcastic. The strike was illegal; Paul isn't on trial and hasn't been convicted of anything, so they have no legal right to beat him (Deuteronomy 25:1–3). His sarcasm would imply that, surely, a high priest wouldn't break the Mosaic law! This one would and does regularly. Ananias steals the support meant for the younger priests and uses violence and murder when it serves his purposes. If Paul knows this, he's saying Ananias has no right to be a ruler of the people.

At this point, Paul realizes any chance to introduce the Sanhedrin to Jesus is gone. He also needs to divert their attention so they forget what he's said to the high priest. He realizes the council is made of Pharisees, who believe in the resurrection of the dead, and Sadducees, who don't. He loudly declares he is a Pharisee and the charge of heresy simmering just under the surface is the message of resurrection. The Pharisees immediately defend him while the Sadducees declare their horror at such a thought. Before long, the two sides are literally fighting and the tribune takes Paul away before they tear him apart (Acts 23:6–10).
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