Paul Discloses His Roman Citizenship
The commander brought Paul inside and ordered him lashed with whips to make him confess his crime. He wanted to find out why the crowd had become so furious. When they tied Paul down to lash him, Paul said to the officer standing there, “Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been tried?”
When the officer heard this, he went to the commander and asked, “What are you doing? This man is a Roman citizen!”
So the commander went over and asked Paul, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”
“Yes, I certainly am,” Paul replied.
“I am, too,” the commander muttered, “and it cost me plenty!”
Paul answered, “But I am a citizen by birth!”
The soldiers who were about to interrogate Paul quickly withdrew when they heard he was a Roman citizen, and the commander was frightened because he had ordered him bound and whipped.Acts 22:24-29
Why did the commander have Paul lashed with a whip? It seemed one minute that he was sympathetic then he wanted him lashed. I don’t understand.
Luke tells us why: Because he wanted to find out why the crowd had become so furious.
But of course he shouldn’t have been asking Paul; he should have been asking the crowd. It was not Paul’s fault that the crowd became so angry. As I said in the last Gem it like we are dealing with a replay of Jesus’ crucifixion or Stephen’s stoning and we know that neither of those two were guilty of anything that made their accusers get so angry so as to act unlawfully. In each of those cases their action was primed by Jewish blasphemy laws.
The Tribune takes Paul into the barracks (the Anatolian Tower) and examines him. Why order him to be lashed with a whip? It was simply the next course of action open to Roman guards. Yes it was a brutal age and there was no such thing as laws in place to ensure prisoners were treated fairly. I guess you could say that it was similar to modern attitudes like once a criminal – always a criminal. The reason at times why police round up violent sex offenders in the area when a new case violent sexual attack happens. Roman guards basically “examined” people with the whip. Paul was not being punished, he was being examined. The scourge was a murderous act of torture and was a legal method of examining a slave or a criminal or an alien (foreigner). The whip consisted of leather thongs to which were attached heavy metal pieces, bits of bone and sharp broken pottery. All of those were fastened to a heavy wooden handle. The scourge would drag the truth out of anyone and you were not presumed innocent until proven guilty. Rather it was assumed you were guilty, otherwise why the accusations. Thus the intention was to drag the truth out of you by means of torture. Most broke under the threat of being scourged let alone enduring it for a while. If a man didn’t die while being scourged he might well end up a cripple. It was a very effective means of Roman torture.
I am still puzzled as to why Paul didn’t disclose his Roman citizen when he was first escorted out of the temple area by the commander. Surely that would have been the best time to tell the commander he was a Roman citizen. It’s almost as though Paul was helping the Jews to persecute him. He told the officer freely who obviously told the commander. Why didn’t Paul just tell the commander himself?
Yes it is interesting that Paul told the officer he was a Roman citizen but didn’t directly tell the Commander. I think it was all to do with why Paul was willing to test the Jews by going through with the first part of the process. It was as though Paul allowed himself to be taken so far under Jewish culture or legal practices to see if they would see reason. Firstly the Sanhedrin, to see if they would stop the sham. I am not sure I would have wanted to entrust myself to an angry mob. I don’t think angry mobs are in any place to see reason and act rationally. The Sanhedrin were implicated with Paul and were in a position to stop the proceedings and make an announcement verifying Paul’s evidence. BUT they did nothing. That point is telling. All Paul was saying they already knew and could verify but they chose not to.
I suspect the reason Paul told the officer when he had not told the Tribune himself was because at that stage the Tribune was not nearby. Likely as not events moved swiftly to the point where Paul was taken inside to be flogged at the Tribune’s command. But the Tribune was not necessarily close enough to talk to so Paul tells the officer in charge that he was a Roman citizen. Clearly the fact that Paul was a Roman citizen was of huge importance to the legality of the actions about to be carried out. You could scourge a slave, a criminal or a foreigner but under Roman law you could not scourge a Roman citizen legally without violating his rights as a Roman citizen. So Paul lets it be known to the officer in charge that he is a Roman citizen. That he didn’t tell the Tribune this when they talked while Paul was led out of the Temple area hints to me that Paul was taking this façade as far as he could in order to prod the Sanhedrin. The perfect time to have told the Tribune was when the subject came up after Paul linked his past to being a citizen of Tarsus. That alone was significant as I told you at that time. Tarsus was a significant city. But now finally Paul plays the Roman citizenship card. If he could not have got the message that he was a Roman Citizen to the Tribune then he would have been scourged.
The officer would have been worried that he was responsible for scourging a Roman citizen so he takes the matter to the Tribune. The commander himself goes straight to Paul and asks him directly if he was a Roman citizen. I can almost hear him asking why Paul claimed Tarsian citizenship when he could have claimed Roman citizenship from the start. You could not even lay hands on, man-handle or rough up a Roman citizen without trial. Now both the officer and the Tribune are worried. The officer has carried out the deed but the Commander gave the order.
Why was the commander frightened that he had ordered Paul bound and whipped? Was that illegal or something?
It was highly illegal but there is more to it. When he ordered Paul to be bound the Tribune went one step further to have him “stretched out”. The word Luke uses here is not the normal word for “having someone bound”. It includes the nuance of having them stretch out like being put on the rack. If Paul was stretched so his skin was tight and exposed, it made the damage from the scourge that much more severe. However just the fact that the Commander ordered a Roman citizen bound over to be scourged indicates that he hadn’t done his job well. That of course begs the question as to why Paul himself didn’t make known the fact earlier that he was a Roman citizen.
Luke informs us that there was more to be disclosed yet. The conversation Paul has with the Commander makes that clear:
- Commander: “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” [Said forcefully]
- Paul: “Yes, I certainly am” [Clearly emphatic affirmative answer]
- Commander: “I am, too, and it cost me plenty!” [Muttering under his breath]
- Paul: “But I am a citizen by birth!”[Audience to show shock]
To claim Roman citizenship falsely was to invoke a horrible legal death. It was a serious thing. Now Paul has the attention of everyone who was implicated in this act which has suddenly gone from legal to illegal. Furthermore this man’s citizenship, the one laid out for flogging, is by birth. That can only mean that Paul’s family were honoured and important. To scourge a man like this was punishable by death to all who laid hands on him. This case is getting more outrageous by the minute.
Lights, camera . . . we will take a break at this point of high drama!
In the middle of difficulty is where we find out who we really are. Surviving difficulties opens the door to helping others do the same.Anon
Becoming world class isn’t dependent on our Genetics, its dependent upon how much time we consistently dedicate to getting better.Malcom Gladwell
When you start to be comfortable with who you are, you stop being uncomfortable with who you’re not!Rick Godwin
The Holocaust was legal. Slavery was legal. Segregation was legal. As I said last Gem, being legal doesn’t make it moral; the Law at times can be an Ass.Ian Vail