Acts 28:18

ESV When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.
NIV They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death.
NASB And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there were no grounds for putting me to death.
CSB After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.
NLT The Romans tried me and wanted to release me, because they found no cause for the death sentence.
KJV Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.

What does Acts 28:18 mean?

Paul is explaining to the Jews in Rome why he is under house arrest and chained to a guard. Two years prior, the Sanhedrin along with Jews from the province of Asia in modern-day Turkey charged Paul with crimes against the Mosaic and Roman laws. The formal charges were that he caused Jews to riot, led a sect of the Nazarenes, and tried to profane the temple (Acts 24:5–6). Any of these could be interpreted as capital offenses against the Roman law if true.

The charge that Paul tried to profane the temple arose from his return to Jerusalem. He accompanied several representatives from the churches around the Aegean Sea who had brought support for the church in Jerusalem. One of these, Trophimus, was a Gentile from Ephesus in the province of Asia. One day, Jews from Asia saw Paul at the temple and assumed he'd brought Trophimus (Acts 21:27–29). To bring a Gentile was to desecrate the temple according to the Mosaic law. To desecrate an authorized religious structure was a capital offense against the Roman law.

The charge that Paul "stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world" (Acts 24:5) could possibly be demonstrated by two examples. The first occurred in Ephesus, a major port in Asia. His ministry there was so successful the silversmiths who made shrines for Artemis worship became worried for their livelihood. In response, the smiths started a rally for Artemis, gathering a large crowd that marched to the theater where they shouted, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" for two hours. Eventually, the town clerk broke them up and sent them home (Acts 19:23–41). The second riot Paul "caused" was when the Asians at the temple grabbed him and incited a crowd to beat him nearly to death until the Roman army officer rescued him (Acts 21:30–36). Starting a riot could also be a capital offense against the Roman law.

That the Sanhedrin charged Paul with leading "the sect of the Nazarenes" was a miscalculation on their part (Acts 24:5). Rome didn't initially differentiate between Judaism and Christianity. In fact, it wasn't until the Jews were ultimately defeated at the Bar Kokhba Rebellion in AD 132 that the Romans realized they were two different religions. Since Rome decreed Judaism an authorized religion, Christianity lived under that umbrella of protection for about 100 years.

The Sanhedrin brought these charges against Paul before Governors Felix (Acts 24:2–9) and his successor Festus (Acts 25:7). Both governors realized the Sanhedrin had neither evidence nor witnesses, and the governors wanted to free Paul. Unfortunately, neither wanted to irritate the Jewish leaders (Acts 24:22–27; 25:9). When Paul realized Festus was not going to give him justice, he appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25:10–12).

"They" includes several people. The tribune Claudius Lysias sent Paul to the governor in part because he couldn't figure out what crime Paul had committed (Acts 23:23–30). Felix knew Paul was innocent but wanted a bribe (Acts 24:26–27). Festus also knew Paul was innocent but to be sure he invited the leaders of Caesarea as well as King Agrippa II to hear Paul's case (Acts 25:13–27). Festus, Agrippa, and the other leaders agreed Paul should have gone free if he hadn't appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:30–32).
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