“I Did Not Know, Brethren…”

Acts 23:1-5

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

After Paul’s arrest (on false charges of taking non-Jews into the temple), he was taken by the Roman Commander Claudius Lysias to appear before the Jewish Sanhedrin, headed by the high priest. Here is what happened in the first five verses of Acts 23:

     Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men 
     and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before 
     God until this day.”  And the high priest Ananias com-
     manded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.  
     Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you white-
     washed wall!  For you sit to judge me according to the 
     law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the 
     law?”  And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s 
     high priest?”  Then Paul said, “I did not know, breth-
     ren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 
     “You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people.”

This Scripture has always caught my attention because Paul did not recognize the high priest Ananias because of his ungodly actions against the accused apostle! Let’s pull some things out of Acts 23:1 through 5:

  • Why did the high priest get so angry at what Paul said for his opening statement; “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
     ✡   The Sanhedrin (composed of the high priest and 70 
         leading Sadducees and Pharisees) had opposed Jesus 
         almost from the beginning of His ministry!

         Most of the members of the Sanhedrin were 
              Sadducees who, according to Acts 23:8, “…say 
              there is no resurrection — and no angel or 
              spirit….         Obviously, Jesus and His followers taught 
              all three, and the crucified Christ rose 
              from the dead after three days!

         ➔   Paul greatly emphasized the resurrection of 
              the Lord (see I Corinthians 15:20)as well 
              as the resurrection of all human beings –
              the righteous to eternal life (see I Corin-
              thians 15:21-23), and the lost to eternal 
              damnation (see Acts 24:14, 15).

     Until his conversion on the Damascus Road (see Acts 
         9:1-18) Saul of Tarsus (Paul the Apostle – see Acts 
         13:9) was the main persecutor of Christians, trying 
         to stamp out every manifestation of faith in Jesus 
         Christ!  So his conversion was a big blemish on the 
         Sanhedrin, and a sharp thorn in their side.

     For him to say, “...I have lived in all good con-
         science before God until this day...must have gal-
         led the high priest, as well as many of the other 70 
  • Where in the Jewish law does it prohibit striking a defendant as was done to Paul?
     Deuteronomy 25:1, 2 – “If...come unto judgment,...the 
         judges...shall justify the righteous, and condemn the 
         wicked.  And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy 
         to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to...be 
         beaten....”  By this Old Testament law...

          ...the facts of the case must be heard and 

         ➔  ...the judge (in Paul’s case, the high priest) 
             must make his decision on those facts! 

          ...only then can punishment be delivered!

     John 7:50, 51 – “Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by 
         night (see John 3:1-21), being one of...[the Sande-
         drin]), and said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man 
         before it hears him and knows what he is doing?’  Nicodemus was a respected member of that high 
              Jewish court! 

           Jesus said of him in John 3:10, “Are you the 
              teacher of Israel, and do not know these things 
              [concerning being born againsee John 3:3-5]
              ...? ” “...the teacher...implies that Nicode-
              mus may have been the leading teacher of the 
              law in Israel! 

         Nicodemus’ interpretation of the law was that 
              punishment cannot be administered before the 
              case is fully heard and a decision is handed 
  • Was not the high priest distinguishable from the other Sanhedrin members by the very clothes he wore (see Exodus 28:1-29)? But by the New Testament time, many Biblical laws were being ignored or over-ridden by man-made interpretations (see Matthew 23:1-36).
So it is hard to say just what clothing the high 
         priest Ananias was wearing that day of Paul’s hear-

     According to what Jesus said (see Matthew 23:5; 
         Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46), other members of the San-
         hedrin emphasized their own fine priestly clothing, 
         and might not have been readily distinguishable 
         from the high priest! 

     This judicial hearing against Paul was about 25 
         years after his conversion.  Paul may have never 
         seen the person of Ananias before!  He was appoin-
         ed high priest in about 47 AD by Herod of Chalcis, 
         grandson of Herod the Great.  By that time, Paul 
         was most likely on his first missionary journey 
         (47-48 AD)! 
  • Apparently, Paul’s assumption that Ananias was not the high priest was based on the man’s unlawful and ungodly actions!
     ✡   So he called out the man:God will strike you, 
         you whitewashed wall!  For you sit to judge me 
         according to the law, and do you command me to 
         be struck contrary to the law?” (Acts 23:3).

         ...you whitewashed wall!” This may have 
              been a reference to what Jesus was speaking 
              about in Matthew 23:27 and 28: 

                 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, 
                 hypocrites! For you are like white-
                 washed tombs which indeed appear 
                 beautiful outwardly, but inside are 
                 full of dead men’s bones and all un-
                 cleanness. Even so you also outwardly
                 appear righteous to men, but inside
                 you are full of hypocrisy and law-

         In Paul’s thinking, “How can such ungodly be-
              havior come from this member of the Jewish 
              high council?” (Acts 23:4). Never mind from 
              a high priest! 

           By the way, the apostle’s statement, “God will 
              strike you...was a prophesy of what was to 
              come for Ananias! (from https://www.gotquestions 

                 Many of the Jews hated Ananias because 
                 of his ruthlessness and corruption, but 
                 he was protected by Rome even after he 
                 was deposed as high priest. In AD 66, 
                 at the start of the first great Jewish 
                 Revolt, Ananias was assassinated by an 
                 angry mob of anti-Roman revolutionaries.

     But when he was called on it by “...those who 
         stood by...‘Do you revile God’s high priest?...Paul clinched it by saying, I did not know, 
         brethren, that he was the high priest....” (Acts 

What can we learn from this incident? The high priest Ananias was acting as a hypocrite – professing by his office to be a man appointed by God and obedient to His Word! Yet his actions betrayed his hypocrisy!

  • Hypocrite (as Jesus used the plural of the word seven times in Matthew 23 to describe scribes and Pharisees – Sadducees included by not mentioned) in the Greek is υʽποκριτής (pronounced hoop-ok-ree-tace’). It means, according to Strong’s Greek Dicitonary, “…an actor under an assumed character (stage player), that is, (figuratively) a dissembler (hypocrite)….”
  • Are we sometimes hypocrites – wearing the mask of a Christian, but too often not acting like our Master Jesus Christ?
     ✞   We are, after all, to be...transformed into the 
         same image [of Jesus] glory to glory, just as by 
         the Sprit of the Lord.” (II Corinthians 3:18).

     ✞   God’s stated purpose for His children is that they 
         would be...conformed to the image of His Son, that 
         He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” 
         (Romans 8:29).
  • Take off the mask of hypocrisy! Do not be like Ananias! Be readily identifiable as a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ! – a Christain!